Erie officials to discuss day care safety ordinance

An Erie City Council study session on the issue is set for Thursday evening at City Hall.

Erie City Council is poised to get an update on a proposed new ordinance aimed at improving safety at Erie day care facilities.

Council will hear from Erie Bureau of Fire Chief Guy Santone and Andy Zimmerman, the city’s code enforcement manager, during a public study session on Thursday evening at City Hall.

That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Mayor Joe Schember is expected to attend.

Santone and Zimmerman are working together to draft an ordinance that would require day care facilities within city limits to register annually and to undergo annual inspections, including for a sufficient number of working smoke detectors. City Public Works Director Dave Mulvihill and City Solicitor Ed Betza have also been involved with the review.

“Fire and code enforcement would inspect them every year, and that way we would know where all of the day cares are located,” Santone said.

The city is pursuing new rules in the wake of a fatal fire in the early morning hours of Aug. 11 that killed five children at Harris Family Day Care, 1248 W. 11th St. Authorities have said that investigators found only one smoke detector in the house and it was located in the attic.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

Santone has said that city officials want the new ordinance in part because of a loophole in state law. Pennsylvania day care facilities that opened before 2004 registered with the state, and not the municipality, and the Department of Human Services is not required to tell a municipality about the presence of a day care, Santone said. City fire officials were unaware a day care was operating out of the West 11th Street location, Santone has said.

Santone said the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services inspects day cares, but not for smoke detectors or fire extinguishers. Presently, the only inspections of day care facilities done by city officials occur before a facility opens, and subsequent inspections are not done on day care facilities in residential areas that operate in a residence, such as the Harris Family Daycare, he said.

Teresa Miller, the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, announced in Erie on Sept. 12 that the department will add fire safety checks, including for operable smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, in its inspections of childcare centers statewide.

However, city officials still plan to craft a local ordinance. Zimmerman said he hopes it can be in place by the end of the year.

“We’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with so far, but we’re looking for input from council,” Zimmerman said.

According to a draft copy of the ordinance, the inspections could also include annual licensing fees for day care facilities between $100 and $500, depending on the number of children being cared for. Zimmerman, however, has pointed out that the fee could be reduced or eliminated by either the Schember administration or City Council members as the ordinance is being reviewed.

City Council President Jim Winarski supports the proposed ordinance.

“We are now going to put something in place that will hopefully help prevent tragedy in the future,” Winarski said. “Council just wants to be part of the process of (creating) this ordinance.”