Ohio Towns Give Fire Self-Inspection Mixed Reviews

Ohio communities that have tried self-inspection programs for fire inspections, have differing conclusions about their program's success, reports cleveland.com.

Sandusky tried a self-inspection program in 2006 for small businesses several years ago, but eventually abandoned the program. That city has returned to sending fire department inspectors to do the work.

Bay Village Fire Chief Chris Lyons is proposing a self-inspection program after the city eliminated funding last year for a full-time fire prevention and safety officer. Lyons pointed out that other communities have adopted self-inspection programs, naming Sandusky as one of them.

Under Sandusky's program, the fire department continued inspecting "high-hazard facilities," including schools and industrial plants. Low-hazard businesses, including barber shops and doctors' offices, were allowed to perform self-inspections.

Similar to Bay Village's proposal, the fire department provided businesses with a check-off sheet on which they were to document that fire code requirements were being met. The businesses then submitted the forms to the fire department.

At first, the department thought the program was going well. Just about all the businesses allowed to use the self-inspection program were submitting the proper forms by the second year, Fire Marshal Rudy Ruiz said.

The problems surfaced during the fourth year of the program, when Sandusky fire inspectors followed up with in-person inspections.

"What we found was, they weren't really as compliant as they said they were," he said.

For example, businesses were supposed to have fire extinguishers serviced annually.

"When we would go back to do the physical inspection, we would realize they hadn't updated their extinguishers for a year, or maybe even two," he said. "They were saying, yes, we have extinguishers, but they weren't being serviced on a regular, annual basis. That was in violation of the code."

Another problem involved servicing emergency and exit lights. Fire inspectors found some lights were not functioning properly. Batteries for emergency backup power were not being changed, he said.

"It didn't take that many for us to say, we're going to need to scrap this whole program," Ruiz said. "We did away with the program several years ago because of that."

However, he said the program at first appeared to work and was recognized by the State Fire Marshal's Office as an innovative program.

"It's just there were some bad apples that ruined it for everybody," he said. "Does that mean that it's not ever going to work anywhere? Not necessarily. It's just the experience we had with it."

The Sandusky Fire Department has resumed inspecting smaller businesses and provided its inspectors with iPads or electronic devices to reduce the amount of time inspections take. The change improved efficiency by about 25 percent, he said.

Colorado Springs (CO) also has tried a self-inspection program and is happy with the results.

However, it is a city significantly different in terms of demographics than Bay Village, and its program also is different. Colorado Springs covers an area of more than 186 square miles and has a population of more than 416,000. The fire department has six inspectors to look at existing buildings and three to conduct new building inspections. It performs 4,000 to 5,000 inspections annually, said city Fire Marshal Brett Lacey.

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