11/25/09 279 W - + 16 - 15 Smoldering Businesses / Fire Inspections in Winston-Salem

Let's turn our attention to another vital service of the fire service, fire inspections and code enforcement. FireNews found this Winston-Salem Journal article with the provacative headline "Smoldering Businesses: 20,850 Violations of State Fire Code Recorded in 2008." And that's a 70 percent increase since 2001. Has the city to the west suddenly become less fire safe? No, rather the city is conducting more thorough inspections. Until 2002, most fire inspections at businesses were performed by firefighters from the local fire stations.

Then came a "spectacular fire" in July 2002 at P&B Distributors, which brought 50 firefighters to the daytime blaze. And it was discovered that no "safety inspector" had ever visited the warehouse, to see that chemicals were being stored safely.

In the aftermath of the fire, the city changed its practices and began conducting more thorough inspections. They began using inspectors in the Fire Prevention Bureau, who are trained to perform level-three inspections. (Firefighters are certified for level-one and level-one.) Guess what happened next? Businesses began being cited for violations that had gone either unnoticed or without citiation for years prior. And they're not happy, having to spend thousands of dollars on issues that "had never been a problem before."

In fact, due to the amount of complaints, the city  even formed a Fire Code Task Force earlier this year, to help business owners and fire inspectors "agree on the regulations of the fire-inspection program and to improve relations." 

Read the entire story on the Journal site, which includes three pages of reader comments, also from business owners. The story also appears on FireNews.

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