Fire prevention programs around the world use trained and knowledgeable persons to inspect properties for compliance with local fire codes for the purpose of preventing potential fires. Fire Code Enforcement is a vital element in the success of fire prevention programs.
Fire Prevention Enforcement boils down to the reduction of fire hazards which have been designated by law to pose a threat to life and property.
In many fire departments, it’s part of the responsibilities of individual fire firefighters to inspect and report on fire code violations.
The enforcement of local fire laws should be characterized by:
- Common sense
- Good judgment
- Professional attitude
When performing an inspection the firefighter should be equipped with the following gear:
- Working flashlight
- Notebook or clipboard
- Report forms and pen
- Fire code and fire prevention manual
Of course laws vary, but for the sake of example, in Los Angeles County, there are 8 actions a firefighter should take upon entering premises for an inspection:
- Identify oneself.
- Seek introduction to the person responsible for the premises.
- Describe the purpose of the visit and obtain permission to inspect the premises.
- Obtain up-to-date occupancy information pertinent to the inspection.
- If they are not reporting to be a hazardous materials handler, request that they sign a Hazardous Materials Non-Handler Declaration.
- Check the validity and limitations of all Fire Department permits issued for the premises.
- Ascertain if any rooms have areas which are locked and obtain keys, if necessary.
- It is preferable to have a company representative accompany the firefighter on the inspection.
Categories of Enforcement
Verbal Notice – Used when violation can be abated in the presence of the fire inspector. For example, hanging an extinguisher or removing an extension cord. Written documentation is still required, but it is not required to issue a written code violation.
Written Notice – An official inspection report must be issued whenever a code violation is encountered. It shall be issued to the person responsible for the premises or his authorized representative.
Time Permitted for Compliance and Appropriate Action:
Compliance times are dependent upon the hazard created by the violation and any extenuating circumstances, including the seriousness of corrections required and any outside work that may need to be completed by contractors. Following are some guidelines.
- Routine Violations (Infractions) – Some departments may require 14-21 days; others may be fewer days.
- Routine Violations (Misdemeanors) – Some departments may use 14-21 days; others may be less.
- Imminent Life Hazards – Serious hazards shall be abated immediately. If abated immediately, document and file notice. Failure to abate immediately shall result in a citation.
- Condemnation – Recognition goes a long way for owners.
Some even report these inspection findings to their insurance companies for rate reductions.
By Retired Captain Rafael Ortiz, Los Angeles County Fire Department.