Current economic pressures on the business community may force some to take short cuts, including the elimination of maintenance or testing of built-in fire protection systems.
We have been listening to the economic news for months and, unfortunately, it isn't getting better. For fire marshals doing a good job of enforcement, they have most certainly been hearing the woes of businesses and manufacturers about how difficult it is to make ends meet and spend funds for fire code compliance issues. Conversations regarding layoffs and reduced revenue is a daily occurrence. Many architectural and engineering firms are slashing salaries by 20 percent or more just trying to hang onto staff. In many locations, the situation is dire.
The current economic pressures on the business community may force some to take shortcuts in their processes, possibly even eliminating maintenance or testing of the built-in fire protection systems. These economic conditions can create an environment where there is an increase in fire protection deficiencies for us to address. Combine the potential increase in the need for our services with a forced reduction in fire prevention staff, less time and, of course, more work than we can imagine, let alone handle. Perhaps it is time for us to step back and reassess what our mission is and it can be better accomplished.
We exist to help keep citizens and businesses safe. We exist to maintain the quality of life and economic vitality. We exist to protect and serve. We should do all this by providing professional customer service, technical expertise and showing empathy.
We are rigidly trained to enforce code requirements. We spend hours to years learning various aspects of fire behavior, building construction, process flows, and the proper application of various fire detection and suppression techniques. We are paid to find violations or non-compliant situations, identify solutions and require compliance. At the end of their day, fire protection professionals are satisfied they are making a positive impact to make the community safer and feel good about accomplishing their mission.
But how does the business owner or manager feel about achieving code compliance? What is their view of the fire protection professional and the organization he or she represents? If we were nice and cordial with our enforcement duties, they may feel respectful but irritated by the expense, frustrated by the intrusion and likely more often then not, having little appreciation or understanding of how we just helped them. Sure we may understand the importance of compliance and the impact it has on their safety and firefighters, but do they? Did we take the time to explain the why this is required and the intent of the code?
Consider the economic situation today. How many businesses are laying off personnel in your jurisdiction? How many businesses cannot make expansions to their facilities or purchase new equipment? How many businesses cannot secure a loan? How many businesses are loosing vendors or suppliers of their raw materials due to the recession? Let's now throw in a visit by someone in our office asking for fire code compliance that will cost $50,000 or more, how palatable is this cost to the owner or manger? It's probably not palatable at all. Experienced fire protection professionals have learned no one budgets for fire prevention or fire code compliance!
Here is an excerpt of a portion of a letter that we just got from a local business owner. The owner has a warehouse-type facility housing two tenants that requires a major fire sprinkler upgrade due to a change in occupancy and commodity. This upgrade is going to cost approximately $125,000. This is part of what he wrote.