Fire chief working on building inspection plan

By Travis Gulbrandson

One of the keys to fire prevention is ensuring that businesses and other public spaces are adhering to state and national safety codes.

However, this is not always as easy as it might seem.

That is why Vermillion’s new fire chief, Richard Shannon Draper, is working on a plan that will find most of these places under inspection for fire hazards once every two years.

“I want to work with the business community,” Draper said at an educational session with the Vermillion City Council in late February. “We’re going to work with the business community so that we’re all working toward this same goal of this safe environment.”

While the fire department has educational programs in place for local schools and other public agencies, Vermillion currently is lacking in regular inspection, Draper said.

In going through the records, he found that only 32 inspections were undertaken in 2010.

“We should be inspecting all public spaces,” Draper said.

While there is not enough manpower to inspect the individual places each year, Draper said it is possible to inspect some of them every two years, and the more high-traffic places on a yearly basis.

“What my plan is, is to divide it into high hazard or target occupancies and the others,” he said. “That would be the bars, the hotels, the daycare facilities, theaters and educational (facilities).”

The state currently has inspectors who go through the schools from kindergarten through university level each year.

“I intend to participate in those, not to override that inspector, but to just be aware of what’s going on in our community,” Draper said.

In terms of businesses, Draper said there are several common code violations, which usually are present because the business owner doesn’t know what the codes are to begin with.

For example, some businesses don’t have the required fire exits.

“There’s a business in our community where the back door – which is the second means of egress – has a regular door lock on it. A regular handle and lock, and it’s locked. He didn’t know he was supposed to purchase the $200 panic bar,” Draper said.

Other commonly-seen violations are improper occupancy, unsafe electrical practices and out-of-service suppression systems.

“These are all things that I’ve seen just by going to lunch with people in the community,” Draper said. “The most common fire hazard that we have is poor housekeeping. These are things that can be fixed right on spot. There’s no need to write up violations or anything, but the inspectors would correct this right out.”

Another problem is the improper use of electrical products or flammable and combustible liquids, Draper said.

“This would be what that fire (at Midwest Ag) two weeks ago,” he said. “If we would have had an inspection program, I can’t say for sure that fire would not have occurred, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have. We would have caught those violations, we would have corrected them with the owner, and we would have put them on the path of a safer practice.”

Draper suggested holding the first inspection of a business free of charge. If there are violations, the business owner will be told how to correct them.

The inspectors will come back 30 days later, and if the corrections have not been made, the business owner would be charged $25.

If the corrections have not been made within three visits from the inspectors, the business owner would be charged $100, Draper said.

“(The inspections find) the most common violations, and most of them are handled by just talking with the owner,” he said. “These businesses, if they haven’t been told, then they’re not really sure.”

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