Fairly McDonald, an attorney representing the Fire Marshal’s Office, told Circuit Judge John Thomason that Oxford Outreach, Tri-County Outreach and Real Life Recovery will need to meet with an architect by April 11 and be working toward code compliance. A cease-and-desist letter sent to each program on March 15 by Alabama Fire Marshal Edward Paulk stated the rehabs needed to reach code compliance by March 29 or close their doors.
Each program was ordered to install a sprinkler system, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency lights, emergency exits and to conduct fire drills at required intervals.
McDonald said residents of the rehabs should be able to remain in the homes while work is being done, as long as an employee at each facility keeps watch for fires until compliance is met.
“Hopefully they’ll be able to keep clientele in place during the process,” McDonald said.
Joel Laird, attorney for Tri-County Outreach and Oxford Outreach, and David Johnston, attorney for Real Life Recovery, agreed with McDonald’s requests.
Paulk said his office is “trying to come up with a way to provide safety and least impact the rehabilitation.”
Paulk said each rehab can choose an architect to assess its facility and they will report back to the Fire Marshal’s Office.
Other rehabs in Calhoun County have been inspected recently, Paulk said, but letters haven’t been sent to those facilities as of Thursday afternoon.
“We’re finding there are a lot of facilities around the state and we’re beginning the process of identifying them and inspecting them and trying to make sure we’re providing protection for the people who occupy these homes,” Paulk said.
Kathy Evans, director of Tri-County Outreach, said she’s hired an architect to assess her six facilities.
“Right now my only concern is my clients and their safety and their welfare,” Evans said.
Sandra Hester, director of Oxford Outreach, said an architect has already visited her facilities.
Oxford fire Chief Gary Sparks said the city of Oxford will be satisfied as long as the rehabs meet fire codes and everyone is safe.
“It’s not a personal thing; it’s not a vendetta. We’ve just got to make sure that everything is according to the law,” Sparks said.
The fire chief said safety “seems to be the ultimate goal of everyone involved.”
Stacie Cunningham, 40, of Oxford, was a resident of Real Life Recovery on two occasions. She said tenants of the women-only house on Hamric Drive are required to have jobs to pay their $145-per-week rent. Every morning the women list what they’re grateful for and read from meditation books. A licensed counselor does not live at the rehab, Cunningham said, but a counselor visits at least once a week. The women attend church, Bible study, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery, local group counseling sessions held at several churches.
The house Cunningham stayed in had five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and two large living rooms. She said at greatest occupancy the property had 28 women living there, but Cunningham said it wasn’t overly crowded because throughout the day the residents were at work.
While not everyone benefits from a rehab program, Cunningham said, they’re a valuable recovery tool for many.
“Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t, but the cancer patient, sometimes the treatment works and sometimes it don’t,” Cunningham said. “Do we take the treatment away from them?”
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.