Re: drivable emergency access. was RE: "Cohousing Overlay"asZoning Regulation
From: Wayne Tyson (
Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2011 16:21:06 -0700 (PDT)

I have elected not to trim the relevant messages; to do so would create additional confusion. I apologize to all who may be adversely affected. I have removed the <'s.

In response to Dowds:

With respect, my call for "harsh" treatment of architects and other professionals who err was not intended to include those making honest mistakes, only those who knuckled under to pressure or for financial gain or who through incompetence clearly failed to do their duty to their clients. However, letting such offenders off the hook, which their professional associations often do by defending them rather than cleaning their own house (post-certification) compounds the crime. Perhaps some professional organizations vigorously testify against its members in court on behalf of injured clients--I am certainly uninformed with respect to the relevant statistics in any particular case.

I don't believe I even implied that firefighters would ". . . walk[ed] away from a blaze because they disagree with a tree or a turning radius . . ." but would Dowds claim that response time would not be adversely affected if, for example, firefighters had to spend valuable time laying additional hoses and improvising because they couldn't get a hook-and-ladder rig next to a two-story condominium with trapped occupants. Granted, this is a HYPOTHETICAL case, but it is not necessarily and exceptional one, nor is it merely constructed of straw. I'm sure Dowds would agree that the principles cited, and relevant others, can be useful in the planning process. I hope that he does not disagree that, these issues are life and death matters and that there is such a thing as good planning and building design and bad design, which is often the result of conscious compromise on the part of the design professional.

Dowds is certainly right in his suggestion that fire sprinklers (in attics, on roofs, and other outside surfaces) can be very valuable, but I hope he is not intending to imply that they will necessarily take the place of adequate access for fire equipment.

I am much more comfortable with specifics than generalizations, so if Dowds or others have specific examples that illustrate the matters under discussion, I stand ready to be thus shown the error of my thinking, and then be able to ask questions about the real world rather than the imagined one. Perhaps Dowd has not observed, in his region a continent away from mine, that most developments, especially condominiums and the like, are frequently firestorms waiting to happen. I would be delighted to see examples that refute my observations.

Respectfully submitted,

----- Original Message ----- From: "R Philip Dowds" <rpdowds [at]>
To: "CoHoL" <Cohousing-L [at]>
Sent: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2:27 AM
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ drivable emergency access. was RE: "Cohousing Overlay"asZoning Regulation

I agree with this.  In general, as a designer of ³eldercare² residential
facilities (retirement housing, assisted living, nursing homes, etc), I deal
regularly with public officials concerned with the life safety of residents
who are less capable of self-preservation than the general population.  And
Yes, your local fire chief has a lot of discretionary control over code
interpretation and unwritten local requirements for firefighter access; you
have to ensure s/he is happy with the design and layout.  Each project and
each community can be somewhat different.

On the other hand, as a professional earning a living in architecture and
design, I find Mr Tyson¹s recommendation for the de-licensing of designers
who miss this or that detail to be somewhat harsh.  I¹m pretty good, but it
has been quite while since the last time I was perfect.

Also in question is the attitude of the firefighting community.
Firefighters are extraordinarily and rightfully proud of their skills for,
and commitment to, fighting fires as they are found.  While they try to
conduct their operations to minimize needless or overwhelming risk to
themselves, I am totally unaware of situations where firefighters have
walked away from a blaze because they disagree with a tree or a turning

Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On 3/15/11 10:18 PM, "Wayne Tyson" <landrest [at]> wrote:

As a one-time park planner in addition to several years of education and
experience in landscape design, park construction plan review, construction
inspection, and ten years of the Subdivision Advisory Committee (worked
closely with the Fire Marshal) for a major US city, I might be able to
assist with specific issues of this kind.

This post seems sensible from a distance, but specifics are necessary to
minimize error and jumping to conclusions. All "seems to me" statements
should be based on facts, as Kay points out. The best way to handle the
issue of emergency vehicle access is to contact your local Fire Marshal for
advice, preferably in the early stages of the planning process; trees and
pavement are not the only issues, and most fire departments do not charge
fees for this advice. Some might not enter the project property if
access/egress is poor.

Another issue that the Fire Marshal is likely to bring up is turn-around
space for emergency vehicles and the entire public safety issue including
the safety of firefighters. Lives have been lost when emergency vehicles
have become trapped. As Kay points out, it is not necessarily adequate to
provide width just enough for emergency vehicles to squeeze through. Tree
placement and minimum limb height should always provide clearance for
worst-case scenarios. Any landscape architect who does not provide for this
should probably be dis-barred or at least barred from practice, or at least
sued for malpractice if they do not both plan for this issue and provide a
long term management and maintenance plan that schedules tree-training well
in advance of the trees from becoming an obstruction while avoiding
"lion-tailing," and other absurdities. Proper tree maintenance should nearly
always be done with nothing larger than lopping shears; that this practice
is rarely followed is not an invalidating argument, however. Trees should be
planted where they will never cause a problem of any kind in their useful
life. Tree removal should be a part of any good management plan/budget.

Porous pavement is a good idea, but it should be laid on a base that will
support the heaviest potential load, and sub-drain provisions should be
considered in the planning process. Under some conditions, a Fire Marshal
might consider a plan which would provide for off-pavement operations, but
this option is dependent upon several factors such as the potential for
getting equipment stuck, etc. If this option is reasonable, repair and
replanting might be cheaper than large areas of pavement.

Each case requires professional evaluation and familiarity with the site; no
general description such as this should ever be relied upon. Just use care
in selecting seasoned professionals for all work; even then you might
consider outside professional review of proposals, plans, and
specifications. While this might seem like an unnecessary additional
expense, it should be far cheaper than correcting mistakes later, especially
when you least expect them.


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