Lexington fire department orders removal of Christmas tree from City Hall lobby

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 9, 2011 

Bah, humbug! A 16-foot, natural Christmas tree recently installed in the lobby at Lexington City Hall has to go.

The Lexington fire department advised city officials Thursday that the tree constitutes a fire hazard and violates a state regulation prohibiting live or natural trees in places of public assembly.

Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs said his department received a complaint about the tree, insisting that removing it has nothing to do with firefighters' recent disagreements with Mayor Jim Gray over health insurance.

"It had absolutely nothing to do with that," Griggs said. "We didn't go hunting this out. We followed up on a complaint, just as we would on any complaint."

Nevertheless, Gray's spokeswoman, Susan Straub, said Thursday night that she's sure the city has had live Christmas trees "each of the last four years" without issues being raised — until now.

"There was a complaint ... and it's a complaint-driven process," she said.

Workers will remove the tree from the lobby Friday morning, according to Straub, but it isn't going far.

Straub said the plan is to reinstall the tree outside City Hall, above the main entrance to the building, where it will be visible to more people. It will be placed on a small balcony above street level, near the canopy over the front entrance at 200 East Main Street, she said.

"To most people, it will look like it's sitting on top of the canopy, right up against the building," she said.

Straub said the tree will be lighted and decorated and that some expert volunteers have offered to help.

"We think the solution is going to allow more people to see the tree and make Main Street more festive," she said. "We're kind of excited about it."

According to Griggs, the legal issue is the fact that the tree is natural, not its size.

"A few years ago, I think in 2007, the state adopted the national standard that live trees can only be in certain places because of the increased fire risk," he said. "If you have a public assembly, you can't have a live tree."

Griggs said the fire department doesn't "go out policing Christmas trees," but does check trees in public indoor spaces if it receives a complaint.

"That's what we did here," he said. "It was an honest mistake — the administration just didn't realize that they weren't allowed to have a live tree there."

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.

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