New Driveway Rules Proposed for Fire Vehicle Access

The Derry Planning Board will consider a proposal to modify the Land Development Control Regulations (LDCR) to clarify the requirements for streets, driveway aprons and access roads, in order to give developers and builders a better understanding of accommodating fire apparatus.

Capt. Scott Jackson of the Derry Fire Department spoke at a Planning Board workshop April 20 and outlined the changes to the LDCR proposed by his department. The Planning Board agreed to hold a public hearing in May before making a final decision.

Jackson told the board that the current LDCR do not contain requirements on the minimum access width, clearance or grade of access roads to buildings and structures to accommodate fire apparatus.

Jackson said the current NFPA Fire Code, adopted in 2009, allows the Fire Department to require up to 20 feet unobstructed width of access roads to buildings and structure over 400 square feet in size. However, the current language in the LDCR does not have any requirement for access width, clearance or grade.

According to Jackson, this has resulted in developers building driveways and access roads that are too narrow for fire apparatus, especially in the winter. “When the snow piles up and accumulates, we don’t always have enough width to get through,” he said. The fire vehicles need a vertical clearance of 13 feet 6 inches, and if the snow is on the trees and branches, they can’t always get their vehicles close to the house, he said.

The department’s newest engine, Engine 1, is 9 feet 10 inches wide, 10 feet high and 33 feet long, Jackson said. It requires an additional 3 feet on each side to open the crew doors, and that expands the width to almost 16 feet, he said. And the hoses when utilized extend further than the doors.

Jackson said existing driveways are approximately 10 feet to 12 feet wide, with varying surfaces and little or no additional clearance. This is especially true in the rural parts of town, he said.

Jackson illustrated his presentation with PowerPoint slides of existing driveways. One driveway in the Station 2 or Island Pond area is thickly lined with trees and has a 10 foot 4 inch clearance. “You’ve got a 9-foot, 10-inch-wide truck, you try to run in there in the snow, it’s not going to get in there,” he said. “It can now that it’s spring, but it’s still tight.”

Another driveway, 11 feet wide, has a 15 percent grade. “In inclement weather, we can’t put some of our apparatus up there,” Jackson observed. The vehicle could roll over, and even result in death, he said.

Another photo showed a thickly-wooded driveway. Jackson said, “It has a little more than 1 foot clearance. We have to maneuver wide to get around the tree.

“It has become a problem,” Jackson said. “We’ve managed over the years, but with these changes, we want to prevent future issues.”

The proposed modifications to Section 170-26 of the LDCR include the following:

• Driveways constructed with a minimum of 12-inch depth of New Hampshire Department of Transportation Crushed Gravel 304.3 Specification for the entire length; All loam and organic material removed down to an acceptable subsurface;  Minimum width of 12 feet under 150 feet and 14 feet over 150 feet in length; Additional clear unobstructed width of 2 feet on each side; Vertical clearance a minimum of 13 feet 6 inches; Driveways in excess of 150 feet shall provide means for fire department apparatus to turn around by hammerhead or other approved means; and No driveway in excess of 15 percent grade.

In the question-and-answer period, Vice-Chair John O’Connor asked if all the fire trucks have hydraulic lifts. Jackson said the ladder truck does, “but we would not put it in a situation like that.”

Alternate member Marc Flattes asked about utility poles, some of which are privately owned. Jackson said he rarely sees utility poles running parallel to driveways, but for the ones that do, if the minimum clearance is observed, they “would not apply to us.”

Member Jim MacEachern asked for clarification on “Other approved means” and town engineer Mark L’Heureux said it could be something like a roundabout.

MacEachern also asked about the material for a “hammerhead.” “Would it be paved? Crushed rock? Grass? You’re talking about a one-time event here,” he said. Being too specific, he said, would present an “undue burden on the homeowner.”

And MacEachern wondered about the “no slope more than 15 percent’ condition. He wondered if the town had done an analysis on the buildable land that’s left. “We are down to the ‘tough’ lots to build on,” he said. “We may be minimizing the potential of someone’s property.”

Chairman David Granese suggested addressing these matters on a case-by-case basis, and Planning Director George Sioras agreed that was the “way to go. When a case comes before us, we can always waive the requirement.” But he added that for a waiver, the police and fire departments would be consulted as to the safety implications.

Member Lori Davison asked if there would be “grandfathering” of the current driveways and Sioras said, “Assuming the changes are approved, the revised ordinance would take effect immediately and anyone who came in the next morning would have to follow it.” But driveway owners under the previous LDCR would be grandfathered in, he said.

Granese asked, “Does that apply to anyone who’s resurfacing their driveway, or just the new ones?” and Sioras said the LDCR would apply to new driveways being built.

Because the action is not a zoning change, it does not need Town Council approval, Sioras said, and can be voted on by the Planning Board after the public hearing.

The public hearing was scheduled for the May 18 meeting.