MALTA – The town fire marshals provided the Town Board with an update on their efforts to address the backlog of state mandated fire safety inspections during Monday’s regular meeting.
The Town Board hired part time fire marshals, Addison Schmidt and Todd Green, last year on the recommendation of a town committee that was tasked with determining the extent of the town’s backlog of fire inspections. The committee found that of approximately 273 properties requiring fire inspections, 242 properties were overdue for inspection.
The town’s inability to complete fire inspections according to state requirements came to light when Town Supervisor Vincent DeLucia assumed his role in the fall of 2015. DeLucia convened a town committee in January of 2016 to determine the scope of the problem and make recommendations on how to address the situation.
The committee’s report was released last May and stated that the town had not been budgeting enough time or money for the inspections to be completed. According to the report, the problem had worsened over the years due to an increase in development leading to a growing number of properties requiring inspection, while the town code enforcement officers’ responsibilities overseeing these construction projects prevented them from performing the fire inspections.
According to Schmidt there are currently 45 public assembly buildings in town that are subject to an annual fire inspection, more than 300 multiple dwelling properties requiring inspection every three years and over 260 commercial properties requiring inspection every three years.
Working from the list of properties overdue for inspection provided by the town’s committee last year, the two marshals were able to complete fire safety inspections on 33 assembly buildings and 104 commercial properties last year. None of the multiple dwelling residential buildings were inspected last year.
Accoring to Schmidt, he and Green averaged 8 new fire safety inspections per week in 2016. The original goal set by the town was 10 per week, however, this goal did not account for the high volume of properties that would require follow up inspections.
“These follow ups are a lot more prevalent than maybe what was originally accounted for. Right now our follow up inspection rate is 100 percent. Every place that we’re going into, there is a violation, we need to follow up to make sure it is corrected,” Schmidt said.
He explained that the frequency of violations did not necessarily point to their significance, citing examples such as having a light bulb out in an exit sign or a fire extinguisher placed on the floor rather than hanging on the wall as possible violations.
Schmidt and Green have progressed through approximately 70 percent of the assembly and commercial properties identified by the town as needing inspections. Since the beginning of the year, they have begun inspecting multiple dwelling apartment buildings.
They hope to see a reduction in the number of buildings requiring follow up inspections as the program continues and by providing information to property owners on the inspections.
Schmidt noted that the primary goal of the inspections was to promote public safety and that the inspections can increase the safety of local fire fighters while improving their responses to incidents by sharing information.
“The communication between the fire department and the building department is crucial. They’re going out responding to incidents, finding things, violations that we might not get to for months down the road,” Schmidt said. “Our job is to communicate with them to find that violation and follow up on it to make sure that it is corrected properly.”
The town marshals are working towards sharing the information that they gather while performing fire inspections with the fire department, as well.
The chief of the Malta Ridge Volunteer Fire Company has given the marshals access to software that they can use for record keeping to document code violations, provide detailed explanations to property owners on the individual citations and information on how to resolve the violation.
Eventually the software will form a digital database that the fire department can access when responding to incidents. The software can also assist the marshals tracking when properties are due for inspection and can automatically generate an inspection schedule.
Schmidt noted the importance of the scheduling tool to complete fire safety inspections on existing properties according to the state mandated schedule once the town has caught up with the overdue properties. He also noted that there are more buildings currently under construction that will eventually needed to be factored into the inspection schedule.
Supervisor DeLucia thanked Schmidt and Green for their work so far, noting that the town board may need to readjust their plans to ensure that all of the inspections are completed.
“You were given a rather ambitious task,” DeLucia said. “You’ve done a great job and of course the re-inspections were a problem. As we move forward, obviously, it is appearing that as we start looking at next year’s budget we may have to be reconsidering how much is put into this so that we can finish up even more of them, possibly. We’ll need to take a look at that as a town board.”