Businesses express concern with fire lane regulations

Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services commissioner Claudio K. Norita listens to some concerns raised by owners of businesses in Garapan about the Feb. 26 implementation of fire-lane regulations during a discussion at Fiesta Resort & Spa’s Azucena Hall yesterday afternoon. (Ferdie De La Torre)

Some business owners and residents of Garapan yesterday expressed their concerns with the Feb. 26 implementation of fire lane regulations.

Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services held a discussion with business owners and the public about the implementation of the fire lane regulations of the Public Law 19-69 at the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan’s Azucena Hall yesterday afternoon.

John Lee, owner of Cha Café, said it’s them as business owners and residents of Garapan who asked for a public hearing for cooperation among DFEMS, Department of Public Safety, and Department of Public Works.

Lee in an interview said DFEMS Commissioner Claudio K. Norita flatly stated “no” as the implementation of the regulations is going to happen on the 26th “no matter what.”

Lee said the implementation of the fire lanes is for the public safety, but what’s actually going on is it’s making it more dangerous.

“We are the ones suffering and we are the ones telling them but they don’t want to listen,” Lee said.

“It’s more dangerous because if you don’t cooperate and build more parking spaces before you implement such a rule there is no parking right now and you are taking away more parking,” he said.

Lee said what will happen is cars will park inside the small alleys.

“It only takes one car to stop a truck or an ambulance from going to an emergency spot. If you are causing more congestion inside the small alleys it doesn’t matter if the big streets are open,” he pointed out.

Lee said it’s the small alleys that need to be addressed.

“If there is fire and a fire truck can’t go in, many people would die and it happened recently in Seoul,” he said.

“So if they don’t want to cooperate and build the parking space and then take away the parking space, then you are setting yourself for a disaster,” Lee said.

He stated that government agencies are pointing to each other, “they said DPW (Department of Public Works), DPS (Department of Public Safety).”

Lee said many years ago government leaders they were going to build a traffic signal on the hotel street.

“And now they said they gonna build the infrastructure, but they should build the infrastructure and then do this rule. This is horrible,” Lee said.

Norita said the discussion is a public education or outreach to the community here in Garapan.

Norita said they passed out fliers last week advising the residents and businesses in Garapan and to the general public, to come over, so they can tell them where the fire lane designations are, the authority behind it, and eventually other designated fire lanes that are going to be occurring in the CNMI, and answer their questions.

“Obviously there are great some concerns about that they are losing parking,” he said.

Norita said as he mentioned several times, “life safety trumps convenience.”

The commissioner said the parking that people are used to are those parking on the main highway.

“Those are the concerns about,” he said, adding that DFEMS does not designate parking fire lane on the private property and designate only on the public highway access.

“And that’s where they have a concern because some of them are used to having so much parking for their businesses and that’s on public highway and that’s the issue,” Norita said.

At the discussion, Norita also talked about the violation, the towing, fees, and the fines.

“At the end of the day, this is not that because the department wants to designate fire lanes for the heck of it,” he said.

Norita said they look at the access roads that lead to firefighting and delivery of their emergency vehicles or trucks specifically.

“We look at those areas and we found out where the chokeholds are, where the problems are, where people are parking are on the highway, leaving limited space for the trucks or emergency vehicles to maneuver,” he said.

With that, Norita said, they started to designate the fire lanes and paint them.

Norita said they are advising the public that by Feb. 26, the fire lane will be effective and DFEMS will start citing people and start towing vehicles.

He said most of the complaints at the discussion is loss of parking, but that people should need to understand those parking are on public highway and not on private property.

“We are trying to clear the roadway so that fire trucks can access it,” he said.

Citation is $150, towing costs $250, and storage fee is 20 a day.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at

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