WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Seventy-five dogs were killed in a fire at a Texas pet resort last September.
When the fire occurred, there was no staffing overnight at the time and no sprinkler system was in place.
Changes to the fire codes in Georgetown, Texas, have already been approved for animal care facilities.
Locally, it appears Palm Beach County's fire code for sprinklers is stricter than the state's code.
What happened at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Texas is a real fear for pet owners who use boarding facilities.
"There's a lot of care, there's a lot of affection that goes into it, so of course you want them to be taken care of by somebody who will care about them as much as you do," said Lyndon Brown, a local pet owner.
Brown has had his pit bull mix Mia for six years.
"I always joke and say she's the longest relationship I’ve had, so they do become like your children," Brown said.
He travels a lot for work. He's found that leaving Mia with pet sitters gives him more peace of mind than choosing a pet resort.
"They usually keep their pets in their home," he said. "I felt that was a much better option for her than going to a boarding facility where they use crates or cages to contain the animals overnight."
Pet shelters and boarding facilities in Palm Beach County have to adhere to fire codes and animal safety ordinances regulated by fire rescue and animal care and control.
"We are more stringent. Any building over 5,000 square feet is automatically sprinklered," said Chief David Derita, division chief fire marshal for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
WPTV found that Palm Beach County follows Florida Fire Prevention Code, which adopts codes from National Fire Protection Association.
But, the sprinkler requirements in the current code only apply to newer facilities that are 5,000 square feet or larger. Buildings permitted before 2005 may not have sprinkler systems.
"Until they renovate by code, they're not required to," Derita said about older buildings that are renovating 50% or more of the structure.
However, animal shelters, kennels and pet shops that may not have sprinklers are still regulated by inspections for animal safety.
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control conducts those inspections annually.
"We require them to have fire safety protocols that come directly from the fire and zoning divisions, as well as we require them to have a posted fire plan," said Capt. Brian Lloyd, field operations manager for Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control.
Fire evacuation maps are posted throughout the animal care and control building, but Director Jan Steele said only newer buildings on the grounds have sprinkler systems.
She said there are plans to renovate older facilities, which will bring them up to code. As far as evacuation plans, Steele said there is a plan in place should anything happen overnight.
"We have staff members who live fairly close. We also have our animal control officers on call. They are on call from their homes. So, it could be anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes," Steele said about response time to the shelter.
Steele also added that the shelter's alarm has a notification system after 9 p.m. Their dispatch goes to 911's dispatch.
Below are some simple things you can ask a pet facility about fire safety:
- Is the facility manned 24 hours a day?
- Is there an alert system in place?
- Does it have sprinklers or a fire alarm system?
- What is the evacuation plan for animals in the event of an emergency?
Derita recommends pet owners also have a plan in place at home that includes camera systems, WiFi smoke alarms or anything that can alert you sooner if there's a fire.
"The quicker you’re notified, the quicker you notify us, the quicker we get there," Derita said. "Time is everything."