This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
OSAWATOMIE â?? When it comes to personal safety and responsibility, theÂ Lawrence City CommissionÂ apparently believes citizens shouldnâ??t be left to make their own decisions.
Such was the case Tuesday whenÂ officials approved a ban on front porch couchesÂ inÂ Kansasâ?? iconic college town, all in the name of fire safety.
City fire officials argue upholstered furniture left to sit out on a porch, deck or patio pose a significant fire hazard. Fire chiefÂ Mark BradfordÂ told city commissioners that because upholstered furniture is often highly flammable and exterior areas usually donâ??t have smoke detectors, couch fires can be particularly dangerous.
The city plans to first ask residents to voluntarily remove offending furniture, but if that fails the commission has approved fines starting at $100 per day. Furniture intended for outside usage is exempt from the edict.
With such foreboding warnings and stark action on the matter, youâ??d think Lawrence had been swept by wave after wave of outdoor couch fires. ButÂ city statistics revealÂ that since 2007, only 10 of 463 structure fires involved indoor furniture placed outside a house.
Thatâ??s barely 2 percent.
But CommissionerÂ Bob SchummÂ said despite the overall small percentage of couch fires, itâ??s a problem that can have devastating effects.
â??Weâ??re dealing with a lot of young adults, a lot of them donâ??t have the same kind of carefulness engrained in themselves as older adults do,â?ť Schumm said. â??To a certain extent weâ??re probably saving people from themselves. Is it an overreach of government? Some people may say it is.â?ť
Schumm hung up on me when asked if he didnâ??t trust residents to make safe decisions for themselves.
Fire officials also cited statistics fromÂ Campus-Firewatch.com, which tracks fires at colleges and universities. From 2000-2012, the site has documented 30 such porch fires involving college students, but couches were involved in only 11 of those incidents.
Data from theÂ National Fire Prevention AgencyÂ only amplifies the fact that officials have made a mountain out of a molehill. Nationwide, it seems youâ??re more likely to bring down the house while cooking up some ramen than sitting on your porch. From 2007-2011, 42 percent of all house fires began in the kitchen, while exterior blazes accounted for only 3 percent.
â??I see this more as telling people what to do, and where does that stop?â?ť commissionerJeremy FarmerÂ said Tuesday evening. Farmer and commissionerÂ Mike AmyxÂ were the two dissenting votes. â??A lot of people I have talked to have said the same thing. I have gotten dozens of comments.â?ť