THE BLOG
11/02/2011 06:44 pm ET | Updated Jan 02, 2012

In Des Moines, Supporting The Movement And Safety Too

There is no inherent contradiction between "Occupy" encampments and official health and safety codes.

Not according to the fire marshall of Des Moines, Iowa, who looks forward to keeping the protestors safe and warm throughout the winter, should the Occupy Des Moines encampment choose to stay on.

The Des Moines Fire Department completed its second inspection of the Occupy Des Moines encampment on Tuesday, Nov.1 And while unwilling to provide a letter grade assessment for the overall conditions at the site, District Chief/Fire Marshal Thomas S. Patava said, in terms of fire safety, Occupy Des Moines is passing the test.

In a document provided to Occupy Des Moines, dated November 2, Patava wrote, "The Occupy Iowa staff, particularly Mr. David Goodner, has been extremely cooperative and responsive to the Fire Department's requests to abate hazards and consider alternatives so that the encampment is compliant with the fire code and otherwise safe for campers." David Goodner is an organizer, employed by the Des Moines based Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI).

With the exception of a pair of handmade structures Occupy Des Moines has been asked to remove, all of the flammable and hazardous material is gone from the site, including bags of leaves that were being used as insulation around the several of the tents.

According to the letter, the Des Moines Fire Department, in cooperation with other city staff, has maintained regular communication with the Occupy Des Moines representatives and has conducted site visits "in an effort to provide guidance regarding fire code requirements and other information as it relates to the safety of the park and its occupants".

Also included in the document was a review of the general requirements Occupy Des Moines will need to comply with to remain in Stewart Park. The letter made specific note of what is and is not permissible in terms of electrical usage, cooking, heating, and smoking.

In the introduction, the Fire Department also notes the irregularity with which they conduct this type of inspection.

"In addition to those requirements that are clearly defined, this situation is a bit of an anomaly that is not completely addressed within the code," wrote Patava. "Therefore we are providing some additional generally accepted fire safety common-sense stipulations to maintain a safe encampment throughout the coming winter months."


Accompanied by a representative from the city's parks department and a handful of representatives from Occupy Des Moines, the marshal's inspection focused primarily on the size and material of the approximately 25 tents spread around the park, in addition to a thorough assessment of whether the types of power cords and appliances in use on site met the fire code.

"By and large, they've (Occupy Des Moines) been as cooperative and responsive as we would like," said Patava, following the 40 minute inspection. "They've taken care of all the things we were concerned about since our last visit on Friday (October 28). We're happy with where we're at."

According to the representative from the Parks Department, the city of Des Moines received less than 10 calls to their office last week regarding the occupation. She was unable to elaborate on the specific nature of the calls.

The recreation manager, meanwhile, was unaware of any alternate sites to move the encampment in the event of a safety issue or any unanticipated community uproar.

Among the Occupy Des Moines representatives accompanying the fire marshal on the tour were David Goodner, who was mentioned in Patava's letter, and Hugh Espey, both of ICCI, a Des Moines based social advocacy group, which has participated at events and, according to media reports, assisted with preliminary logistics such as ordering portable toilets and securing permits.

In addition to removing some power strips that were not permitted for outdoor use, Occupy Des Moines representatives took special note of Patava's suggestion to increase the distance between tents, in order to create what is known as a "fire break."

Before leaving, Patava gave those still gathered a final reminder.

"Even if you're doing everything right, when people are sleeping, fires typically become much more dangerous."

Espey said he was satisfied with the fire marshal's assessment and expects the fire department and Occupy Des Moines to continue to maintain a solid relationship throughout the occupation.

"Our goal is to support, promote and encourage the occupy movement," said Espey, during an interview at the conclusion of the inspection. "We have no problem complying with safety codes. It's in our interests to do so."