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Hamptons Life

Jun 17, 2009 10:59 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Supervisor pushes plan to adopt driveway standards for emergency vehicles

Jun 17, 2009 10:59 AM

During a medical emergency or fire, seconds could mean the difference between life or death or whether a home is salvaged or ravaged by flames.

In Southampton Town, driveway obstacles often impede emergency responders from reaching an ailing resident or achieving better positioning to extinguish a blaze. That’s because large fire trucks or ambulances are often unable to reach a home due to accessory driveway structures, such as gates or garages, in the right of way, according to Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, who has sponsored a series of proposals to address these concerns.

In a move to enhance public safety, Ms. Kabot is looking to update the Southampton Town Code to include driveway standards in order to provide easier property access for responding emergency vehicles. A public hearing to discuss these code amendments to regulate driveway structures will be held at Town Hall on Tuesday, July 14.

The supervisor’s legislation would specify that accessories to driveways—pillars, posts, gates, gate houses and bridges—require a building permit from the town, meaning that the new structures would have to meet certain height, width and clearance requirements. Ms. Kabot’s initiative would also address landscaping and vegetation that can also make emergency vehicle access more difficult. These requirements would become part of the existing maintenance code so that residents would have to ensure that growth into the right-of-way does not impede emergency vehicles.

Southampton Town Public Safety Administrator Cheryl Kraft said during a recent interview that she supports the legislation. She recalled a house fire in Remsenburg in the mid-1990s when brush overgrowth alongside the driveway slowed down the responding trucks.

“I was walking up to begin my investigation,” Ms. Kraft said. “And ladders and equipment from the trucks were spread out across the driveway.” She explained that the vegetation was so thick that it not only hindered the trucks from accessing the house but ripped off the equipment.

Ms. Kraft also recounted a fire in Westhampton a few summers ago when a locked gate took precious time away from first responders. Eventually, emergency personnel were able to reach the blaze, but Ms. Kraft said there was no way to determine the outcome of that fire had they been able to begin fighting the fire sooner.

“There are problems like these in every hamlet,” she said. “Each department has had to deal with these issues.”

Last week, Southampton Fire Department Chief Roy Wines IV said he supports the legislation as well. He added that encountering obstructions while responding to emergencies is routine.

“We experience it on a regular basis,” Chief Wines said. “Today’s trucks are larger now and they simply can’t fit. It’s not only difficult to get into some driveways, it’s often more difficult to get back out.”

Should the legislation be enacted by the Town Board, it would restrict all new structures from being built in driveways. The amendment would also mandate that driveways be located entirely within the lot lines, and any accessory structure—such as a canopy or arch—to that driveway would not be allowed to have any component that might restrict access.

Also under the proposed legislation, driveways would have to have a minimum clearance width of 14 feet in order to accommodate emergency vehicles. And dwellings set more than 150 feet from the roadway would have to adhere to added setback requirements to allow the necessary turning radius for the large vehicles—specifically mandating that accessory structures for those longer drives be constructed at least 20 feet from the edge of the road.

Homes located on flag lots, as well as large estates, are often situated far from the road and can be reached only by traveling up a long, narrow driveway, Ms. Kabot said last week. Getting to these structures quickly, without hindrance, is key for emergency responders.

Another aspect of the law is to require that key boxes be installed for multi-home complexes—such as senior and assisted living facilities—that have electronic gate entrances. Key boxes would allow the gates to be opened by emergency personnel if necessary. At this time, the key boxes are not mandated, but are encouraged, for private residents with electronic gate access.

Under the proposed legislation, gates, gateposts, or pillars at driveway entrances or exits would not be allowed to exceed 8 feet in height. Gate houses would be prohibited from exceeding 20 feet in height. Gate houses constructed with a drive-through would require an opening of at least 14 feet, both in width and height, to accommodate an emergency vehicle.

Asphalt, stone, drains, cement, concrete or other driveway construction border material would not be allowed on or adjacent to driveway aprons—which connect the driveway to the road—and the aprons would not be allowed to have a slope greater than 3 inches of rise for every foot. The degree of incline and the material used in constructing driveway aprons often prevent emergency vehicles from accessing a dwelling, according to Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa.

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I believe that East Hamptn has also considered (if not already implemented) criteria regarding access to houses by emergency equipment. If I recall correctly this issue was raised following the fire at Dick Cavett's house in Montauk which fire trucks could not easily access because of trees and a winding driveway.
By Rich Morey (378), Brooklyn on Jun 17, 09 12:36 PM
What a wonderful idea.

Would someone please tell me when governemnt STOPS the constant invasion of property owners right?

Is LK just looking under rocks for issues?

This sounds good in theory, but think this through folks, she is just grandstanding.

If this is an issue, where are the insurance companies? They normally lead the charge to enact legislation like this because of documented losses. Not frivolous "Let's do this" politicians.

Good grief, stop ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jun 17, 09 1:08 PM
I've seen some pretty inaccessible driveways around here, especially in the heavily wooded areas. However, I think it would be more effective if the Fire Departments simply sent out a notice to those folks saying, "Hey, we can't access your driveway, so in the event of a fire - you're on your own." I can guarantee THAT would be a lot more effective than more laws, permits, fees, etc. Where the heck are you going to put a "turning radius" on a 10,000 square foot lot? Will all that extra clearing ...more
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jun 19, 09 10:38 AM