Mentor, Visionary Leaves Legacy in Safety Industry

Charles O’Meilia, long-time public services director and former councilman for the Village of North Palm Beach, Florida, passed away in October. He was 85. Known as Charlie to his friends and colleagues, the ICC Honorary Member leaves a legacy in the building and fire safety industry that is still relevant today. His leadership continues to serve as a guiding force for many First Preventers in Florida and elsewhere.

“Throughout his career, Charlie left an indelible mark on those he came in contact with,” said Code Council COO Dominic Sims, who previously served as executive director of the Palm Beach County, Florida, Planning, Zoning and Building Department. “He set the standard for the next generation of building officials to aspire to achieve. He always put the public’s interest above his own.”

“Charlie was a mentor to the new crop of building officials in Palm Beach County,” added Jupiter, Florida, Building Official Robert Lecky. “He was tireless and worked tireless hours, but he always found time to provide guidance on major issues of the day.”

O’Meilia testifies in favor of duct damper requirements in the mechanical code during SBCCI’s 1985 code development hearings.

“We used to call him Mr. Florida,” said Curtis Mann, longtime building official for the City of New Orleans. “Charlie testified at just about every code hearing we had, about every code—especially building.”

Mike Crisafulle, president of the Building Officials Association of Palm Beach County, said hearing participants were very familiar with the standard introduction at the microphone: “O’Meilia, North Palm Beach.” “Charlie was instrumental in a lot of the code changes,” Crisafulle said. “He would go to bat on all kinds of issues.”

A stickler for detail, O’Meilia was tough because of his passion for public safety and his love for the Village of North Palm Beach. “I always admired Charlie,” said Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) retired Director of Technical Services Rick Vognild. “He didn’t mince words—that’s for sure. He believed in what he was doing.” Added Mann: “If it was a spade, Charlie called it a spade, instead of trying to make you digest it with a pretty shovel.”

O’Meilia chaired for 13 years the SBCCI committee that rewrote the hurricane codes for the state of Florida. The committee developed prescriptive wind requirements for low-rise buildings that helped pave the way for the Standard for Residential Construction in High Wind Regions (ICC-600), which has been approved by the American National Standards Institute as an American National Standard. When opposition to the new requirements began to swell at the time, Vognild said O’Meilia was up to the task. “I think Charlie was the perfect foil to tell them where they stood and where we stood.”

O’Meilia’s passion for the new hurricane requirements led him to assemble a 2x4 stud cannon at an SBCCI Annual Conference in Nashville. “He had it set up in the parking lot for all comers,” Lecky remembered. “He went toe-to-toe with the opposition, promoting impact resistance. He told me at the time that the real solution was impact-resistant glazing. That’s what he believed and, of course, he was right. Charlie was a visionary.”

Prior to Hurricane Andrew hitting south Florida in 1992, O’Meilia served on the building codes advisory board that wrote local codes for Palm Beach County. “Charlie was also one of the foremost believers in load paths,” Lecky said. “Because of his foresight, we have buildings in this county that survived due to the wind provisions in the codes.” O’Meilia was a voice of reason as a member of the Florida Building Commission, and participated in a special commission established by the late and former U.S. Representative Tom Lewis to develop special inspections for high-rise buildings in Florida. “Charlie worked at all levels of society to improve the building regulatory process,” Sims said. “His expertise, reason and judgment were felt far and wide.”

SBCCI Board President Don Fox presents the M. L. Clement Award to O’Meilia in 1987.

O’Meilia served on several committees for SBCCI, ranging from building code interpretations to mechanical code revisions. In 1987, he was the recipient of the M.L. Clement Award, SBCCI’s highest honor that recognized code officials for their continuous and devoted service to the organization. O’Meilia was a founding member of the Building Officials Association of Palm Beach County, and the chapter sponsors an ICC Foundation scholarship in his honor and memory each year. He was a member of the Building Officials Association of Florida and a past recipient of the organization’s Building Official of the Year Award.

“In a way, Charlie put Palm Beach County on the map,” Crisafulle said. “He was a pretty influential figure who was always willing to help guide you along the way.”

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, O’Meilia earned a chemistry degree at Oklahoma A&M University before serving in the U.S. Navy as a submarine lieutenant in World War II. He met his wife, Mary Clare, an Army nurse, in San Francisco at the end of the war and they were married for 58 years before she passed away in 2005. The couple and their five children moved to Melbourne, Florida, in 1963, where O'Meilia worked for an engineering firm. He remained in the Naval Reserve and retired as a captain in 1972.

During his 26 years as public services director in North Palm Beach, O’Meilia oversaw a wide range of construction projects and the maintenance of playgrounds at local parks. He retired in 1994 and then served two six-year terms on the village council. In a Palm Beach Post online guest book for O’Meilia, other former colleagues remembered his leadership and devotion to the village.

“Charlie was always there in a time of need or direction,” said Bill Reinert of Stuart, Florida, who worked with O’Meilia until his retirement in 1994. “I'm sure that he never knew how much he impacted my life and family.”

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