Updated 10/4: 75 dogs die in fire at pet boarding facility

Sep 22, 2021

Updates

Click here to jump to the City fire codes comment box below
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Oct. 4, 2021, update:

Video and slides from Oct. 1 news conference added below.

Oct. 1, 2021, update:

Update on dog boarding facility fire investigation

Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan updated families and the news media on Friday, Oct. 1, on the investigation of the fire at a dog kennel facility in Georgetown, as well as proposed changes to City fire codes. The fire on Sept. 18 led to the tragic deaths of 75 dogs boarded at the Ponderosa Pet Resort, 2518 N. Austin Ave. Although firefighters responded to the 911 call in less than five minutes, none of the dogs in the facility survived. Twenty-five firefighters responded to the blaze.

Fire investigators with the Georgetown Fire Department have determined the fire started about 10:40 p.m. in the main kennel/boarding area of the facility. Probable ignition sources are still being evaluated. Sullivan said that investigators are focusing on devices in the kennel area that potentially malfunctioned.

Building material inside the kennel area may have contributed to an increased spread of smoke from the fire. The facility does not have monitored smoke or heat detection devices or a fire suppression system, such as sprinklers. Federal, state, and Georgetown fire codes do not require sprinkler systems for the use and size of the facility.

The Fire Department expects to have more details to share about the cause of the fire as the investigation continues.

“While the investigation is not complete, we have all the information we need to propose changes to our current fire codes,” Sullivan said.

The City of Georgetown is asking for input from the public on possible fire and building code changes that could be implemented to prevent future tragedies.

The Fire Department is drafting potential changes to the City’s fire codes that include a formal definition and criteria for animal care facilities. Options include monitored smoke and/or heat detection devices; building material requirements; access to exterior areas of safety; fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers; and/or 24-hour onsite staffing. The City plans to bring proposed changes to the Building Standards Commission on Oct. 14 before presenting possible changes to the City Council in November or December.

The Fire Department is currently conducting inspections of 26 animal care facilities in Georgetown and its surrounding extraterritorial jurisdiction area, which include animal boarding facilities and veterinary offices that board animals. The department also has added animal-care facilities to its list of structures that receive annual inspections in the future.

The presentation by Fire Chief John Sullivan at the news conference is available here.

Here is video of the Oct. 1, 2021 news conference including questions and answers.

Sept. 29, 2021, update:

City Council Tuesday, Sept. 28, directed City staff to move forward with creating a memorial or enhancement to the City’s Bark Park to honor the 75 dogs who lost their lives in the fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort and their family members. Staff will work with the families to determine how best to memorialize their pets and develop a process for raising funds for the project. More updates will be posted here and shared on social media as we have them.

Council Agenda Coversheet | Council Meeting Video: Item AK

Sept. 23, 2021 update:

The Georgetown City Council is working to create a permanent memorial for the lost family members. Council is set to approve the funding at its meeting Tuesday.

“The loss the families experienced of their loved ones on Saturday is a tragedy and one that breaks my heart,” Georgetown Mayor Josh Schroeder said. “While it does not heal the pain the families feel, the City would like to establish a memorial at our Bark Park to honor the 75 dogs — family members, really — that lost their life. Our Council will be directing staff this upcoming Tuesday to begin the process in establishing this memorial and working with the families.”

Sept. 22, 2021, update:

We do not have additional information on the investigation; however, we wanted to address some questions and concerns we have been receiving in regard to our kennel permitting ordinance and occupancy requirements at pet-boarding facilities.

City Manager David Morgan goes through this information in the video below. We want to make a few things clearer:

  • The kennel permit ordinance regulates such requirements as food, water, sanitary conditions, and health. It does not require sprinklers, smoke alarms, or 24/7 staffing.
  • Failure to obtain a kennel permit does not mean such businesses cannot operate. Ponderosa Pet Resort does have a Certificate of Occupancy which does allow them to operate in the facility.
  • We have not been actively educating about or enforcing the kennel permitting ordinance — something we know we need to improve and are working diligently toward. We have an active, dedicated animal control team who respond to any concerns about animal health and safety.
  • Because we haven’t been enforcing the kennel permitting ordinance, we do not expect to issue a citation to any of the three businesses we know of, including Ponderosa, for not having a kennel permit. But we want to reiterate: Obtaining a kennel permit does not require fire suppression.
  • We are working through recommended updates to our fire codes, and expect to bring those before City Council this fall. Relevant to pet-boarding facilities, we expect to recommend adding a section about animal occupancy into our City fire code, which may require smoke alarms and/or sprinkler systems in kennels and pet-boarding facilities regardless of square footage. We want your feedback on these updates, and have set up a comment box below to collect them.
  • First responders reported that the majority of kennels had one occupant. There were a few larger kennels that had two dogs, as well as several kennels that were unoccupied. Based on calls for service rendered at the facility since it opened, we have no reason to believe the facility did not meet our animal health standards. Codes relevant to occupancy limits are subjective to allow for flexibility based on the size of the space and the size of the animals.

More information and detail are available in the Question and Answer section below.

Sept 21, 2021: Questions and Answers below

Sept. 20, 2021:

The investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing and is expected to take at least into next week as we continue to review the scene, including watching video recordings and conducting interviews. Preliminary investigations have given us no information that indicates the cause of the fire was criminal in nature, and it is too soon to comment further. However, we have reached a point in our investigation to be able to release the pets back to their families. The owner of the facility is working to reunite the dogs with their families at an alternate location. Families should expect to receive an email notification from the owner today.

“As part of this investigation, we have been working closely with the owner, and our combined focus is to reunite families with loved ones,” Fire Chief John Sullivan said. “We understand people want answers. We want answers, too. We have to make sure we’re evaluating all the facts, so we can understand what happened, so we can better prevent this in the future.”

The business has confirmed 59 families lost loved ones Saturday. The City is not confirming identifies of the dogs or their families.

Federal, state, and Georgetown fire codes do not require sprinkler systems for the use and size of the facility. City code, available here, requires sprinklers for occupancies listed/operating as a business of at least 10,000 square feet. The facility involved in the fire has a square footage of 8,125. The City’s requirement supersedes and is more restrictive than national code requirements. City has been reviewing its fire codes, and we expect to present recommended updates to City Council in fall 2021. As a result of this incident, we also will evaluate options that could impose additional safeguards in animal care facilities. The Georgetown Fire Department last inspected the facility in 2015, at which time we found no violations to the fire code. The use of the facility is considered a low fire risk, and the use and structure have not changed since the inspection.

The City of Georgetown Animal Services Department regulates the care and keeping of animals in kennels through a 2013 ordinance linked here. The ordinance regulates such requirements as food, water, sanitary conditions, and health. It does not require sprinklers, smoke alarms, or 24/7 staffing. All kennels within the Georgetown city limits are required to have a kennel permit. The business from Saturday’s fire does not have a kennel permit; however, the requirements of the permit do not address such safety measures as fire suppression and warning systems. We know this business is not the only one to operate without a kennel permit, and the City is working to increase awareness, education, and enforcement about this requirement.

Additional updates will be provided as soon as possible, here, to local media, and on the City’s social media channels.

Video update from Chief John Sullivan on Sept. 20, 2021:

 Sept. 19, 2021:

A fire at a pet-boarding facility in Georgetown Saturday night led to the deaths of 75 dogs.

Georgetown Fire Department responded to 911 calls about 11 p.m. at Ponderosa Pet Resort, 2518 N. Austin Ave. Crews arrived on scene in four and a half minutes. By that time, the facility was engulfed in smoke from the fire. None of the 75 dogs staying at the resort survived. No humans were injured or died in the fire. Twenty-five firefighters responded to the blaze.

“We know each dog that died in this fire was a cherished member of someone’s family, so our heart goes out to all those who were affected by this tragic fire,” Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan said. “We believe the dogs at the facility likely died due to smoke inhalation, not the flames from the fire. We are working as quickly as we can to conclude the investigation, so pets can be returned to their grieving family members as soon as possible.”

Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause and origin of the fire, as well as whether any fire suppression or smoke alarms were present. Federal, state, and Georgetown fire codes do not require sprinkler systems for the use and size of the facility.

The owner of the facility has been cooperative with the investigation. The facility will contact family members of the dogs to make arrangements to retrieve their deceased pets.
Video from Sunday, Sept. 19 news conference with Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan:

Questions and Answers

Fire investigation

1) Who will be the agency determining the cause of the fire?  Georgetown FD or Fire Marshall?  Who should we check with daily to know the status of the investigation?

Georgetown Fire Department will determine the cause of the fire. We are working closely with the Fire Marshal as well as other professionals.

2) How was the Ponderosa fire first detected Saturday night?  Who alerted the fire department?

We received several 911 calls from passersby about smoke and fire coming from the building.

Kennel permits

1.) What are the requirements of a kennel permit?

The permit requirements are laid out in the code, available here.

This ordinance regulates such requirements as food, water, sanitary conditions, and health. It does not require sprinklers, smoke alarms, or 24/7 staffing.

2.) How many kennels exist in the City and what is the City doing to enforce its kennel permitting ordinance?

With Ponderosa Pet Resort not operating at this time, the City has three known businesses that fall under this ordinance. Our records show one kennel had a permit before September 2021. On Sept. 30, 2021, City staff delivered letters of violation to the two known kennel operators to make them aware of the kennel permit requirements. Should known kennel operators not come into compliance after the 90 day deadline to comply, staff will refer the matter to municipal court. The maximum fine set out in City code for not having a kennel permit is $500 per offense, per day as set out in Section 1.08.010.

If members of the public are aware of facilities that board more than five dogs or cats, please submit that information to animalsvc@georgetown.org.

3.) How often is a business supposed to secure a kennel permit?

The ordinance requires kennels reapply for a permit annually.

4.) Will Ponderosa Pet Resort face any fines or other penalties for not having a kennel permit?

We do not expect to fine Ponderosa Pet Resort for not having a kennel permit prior to the Sept. 18, 2021, fire, because the City wasn’t actively enforcing its kennel permitting ordinance.

On Sept. 30, kennel permit requirements and violation letters were hand-delivered to the two known kennels operating without a permit. These kennels have 90 days to come into compliance.

5.) Of places that have a kennel permit in Georgetown, how often are those inspected?  Has any permit ever been revoked or a permit-holder fined?

As we had not enforced the kennel permit requirement prior to September 2021, we only inspected and issued a permit for the one kennel, which initiated the process itself. The two known kennels have 90 days from Sept. 30, 2021, to come into compliance.

6.) What about fire inspections?

The Georgetown Fire Department last inspected the facility in 2015, at which time we found no violations to the fire code. The use of the facility was considered a low fire risk, and the use and structure have not changed since the inspection.

During fire inspections, we look for compliance to the occupancy for what they’re in. In the case of pet-boarding facilities, which are classified as general business, we’re looking to make sure the doors are functioning properly, that it has proper hazard storage and lighting, etc.

The fire department performs inspections all the time. Outside of state-licensed facilities, like hospitals and schools, which are required to be inspected annually, each jurisdiction determines how often it inspections properties. For general business occupancies, like animal-housing facilities, the Georgetown Fire Department tries to perform fire inspections every three years. However, the fire department is in the process of changing its classification of animal-housing facilities to conduct inspections on these structures annually.

City code and fire departments inspected the facility at 2518 N. Austin Ave. for its Certificate of Occupancy for its current use as a pet-boarding facility in 2013. The structure was built in 1962. At the time, it was located outside the Georgetown City limits. It has had several uses through the decades, including a roofing company, a body and paint shop, and a plumbing supply outlet. Based on the uses and our fire codes throughout this time, City fire codes have not required smoke alarms and sprinklers in the structure.

7) Was Ponderosa Pet Resort over capacity by having 75 dogs on the premises at one time?

The kennel permitting ordinance has several requirements as they relate to animal health, including that the facility must be adequate for the number and type of animals and the animals must be able to move about freely. Therefore, occupancy limits are subjective to allow for flexibility based on the size of the space and the size of the animals. For example, 30 kennels might be able to comfortably fit 50 smaller dogs, but would likely be inappropriate for 50 large dogs. Additionally, only dogs from the same household who are altered or of the same sex would be permitted to share a kennel.

First responders reported that the majority of kennels had one occupant, though there were a few larger kennels that had no more than two dogs. There were several kennels that were unoccupied. Based on calls for service rendered at the facility since it opened, we have no reason to believe the facility did not meet these or other, required standards.

Police and animal control calls for service to Ponderosa Pet Resort can be found here.
Fire and emergency medical calls for service to Ponderosa Pet Resort can be found here.

Changes to City ordinances

1) What changes to the City’s fire code or building code are being considered?

The City adopted the International Fire Code in 2014. We have spent the last year going through a comprehensive review of the entire code for recommended updates. This work includes reviewing what regulations other cities our size have adopted, as well as reviewing alternative requirements from the National Fire Protection Association.

Relevant to pet-boarding facilities, we expect to recommend adding a section about animal occupancy into our City fire code, which may require smoke alarms and/or sprinkler systems in kennels and pet-boarding facilities regardless of square footage. Some sample language is found within the National Fire Protection Standard (NFPA 150).

We also seek to recommend providing clarification within the Fire Code so it acknowledges pets as “occupants” in a building so that safeguards are in place to protect all occupants (pets and humans).

2) When will those be proposed?

We anticipate presenting recommended amendments to the City’s fire code ordinances to City Council in fall 2021.

3) Will they apply only to new animal boarding facilities or will they apply to existing businesses?

We haven’t yet determined whether any of the proposed regulations would apply to businesses retroactively. That is something we expect we expect to discuss with City Council.

4) Is there a possibility a facility like Ponderosa would be required to have “fire suppression and warning systems” under new fire code?

If City Council adopts the recommendations detailed above, and wants them to apply retroactively, then existing facilities, including Ponderosa, would be required to comply.

5) When would changes go into effect?

This depends on when the regulations are presented and adopted by City Council, but we hope to have new codes in place early 2022.

Changes to international fire code

1) Georgetown Fire Protection Engineer Carl Wren mentioned in his video Monday, Sept. 20, that he would be proposing changes for the 2024 International Fire Code on behalf of the City of Georgetown.  What changes are the Georgetown Fire Department considering proposing?

Wren will be supporting the inclusion of a section about animal housing facilities into the international codes.

2) When and where are the hearings taking place on the proposed changes to the building code?

The International Code Council conference and hearings take place Sept. 19-26, 2021. Read more here. The ICC is reviewing updates to the code that would go into effect in 2024.

3) Can members of the public share their own comments on possible code changes? If so, how can they do that?

We want residents to share their thoughts about changes to the City’s fire codes as we work through this process. Please use the comment box below, which will send the comments to a dedicated inbox at the Georgetown Fire Department. We will review this feedback as we finalize the proposed amendments.

Provide your feedback on Georgetown fire codes

The Georgetown Fire Department currently is reviewing our existing fire codes, which are based on the International Fire Code, and plan to make recommended amendments to City Council in fall 2021. We expect to recommend adding a section to the City’s adoption of the IFC about animal occupancy that may require smoke alarms and/or sprinkler systems in kennels and pet-boarding facilities regardless of square footage. No such designation currently exists in the IFC, and we are modeling our recommendation based off of only a handful of other cities and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 150) that now have these requirements.

Please use the comment box below to provide your feedback about Georgetown fire codes, which will send the comments to a dedicated inbox at the Georgetown Fire Department. We will review this feedback as we finalize the proposed amendments. Any proposed changes would go before City Council, at which time there will be additional opportunities for public input. Any changes that are proposed to the City Council will be publicized in advance.

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