Anyone who has been involved in fire prevention services for any length of time truly understands the difficulties involved with fire code enforcement. Fire inspectors are sometimes tagged as badge heavy thugs, code geeks, bullies and other terms not suitable for print. Sometimes these labels may even be warranted! Most of the time it is not.
We have even heard similar comments about fire marshals. One phrase we have heard: "When a fire marshal walks in, the milk curdles and my blood boils." Unfortunately there are many individuals who are unaware of the duties, tasks and responsibilities fires marshals or inspectors shoulder on a daily basis. It's a funny job, that of fire prevention and code enforcement. There is no other division in the fire department which generates so many questions and demands so many answers
Fire inspectors and fire marshals are responsible for enforcing the local fire code and referenced or adopted NFPA standards of which well over 250 relate to fire service responsibilities. In addition there are the associated American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards we reference and use. Don't forget about the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual (FM) listed assemblies or equipment, local laws and ordinances, associated references to companion codes and documents, and not to mention policies and procedures the department uses and enforces. Now let us combine all of this and incorporate the challenge of making all these regulations fit the reality on a job site or in a business. We must respond to code questions in a timely manner. Couple all this with educational awareness and the finesse demanded with professional communication skills and we have a slight understanding of what can go on in the course of a day. To say it simply, sometimes there is no easy answer and it takes time to research the appropriate response. If the research is not done, the codes are often misapplied which creates even more turmoil.
The audience we deal with is generally homeowners, businessmen and women, architects, engineers, politicians, firefighters, utility personnel, small children, senior citizens, etc. The skill required to communicate the same message effectively to this plethora of individuals is quite a task. It requires patience, knowledge, experience, finesse and dedication to service. It is quite possible that dedication to service is the most significant element of the fire prevention group. Why?
Those assigned the task of fire prevention duties know well the importance of being dedicated. Inspectors have the responsibility of identifying problems and mandating corrections. Unlike the suppression or "hero" division, who are nearly always viewed as the knights in shining armor, inspectors are viewed as a necessary evil, someone who must be listened to but always costs somebody money. It's easy to serve in a division where everyone loves you, but it is quite different to serve in a section where your customers don't necessarily care for you. What then drives someone to work in fire prevention then? It is dedication.
This superior dedication to service should be something all chief officers, city officials, politicians and business owners look upon with respect and appreciation. Unfortunately, there are many in jurisdictions that don't always get it. A few actually comprehend that when fire prevention personnel are supported properly, they accomplish far more in the realm of saving lives, preventing injury and reducing dollar loss than many of the operational functions. What is difficult is measuring and quantifying their work's impact. Are the lives saved when the sprinkler controls the fire and everyone evacuates as important as an EMS save?