No, this isn't Body Odor. It's your Building Official! All too frequently, there are adversarial relationships between fire officials and building officials. Unfortunately, this creates a difficult environment, not only for both officials, but their staff and external customers too. How silly is it that the two most influential and powerful people pertaining to building and fire safety can be at odds with each other regarding fire and life safety issues? It is only right that we should work to eliminate this strife. Don't they both have the same goal of a safe building?
Here are just some of the reasons often cited for causing friction between fire and building officials?
- Building officials don't understand or care about fire issues
- Building officials are in bed with the contractors and concerned about economic development
- Building officials are too political
- Fire officials aren't technically competent in the codes and have little formal education
- Fire officials are badge-heavy egomaniacs
- Fire officials always see the world as doom and gloom and base interpretations on "worse case scenarios"
First of all, doesn't it make sense building officials may not understand fire issues as well as fire officials? How much time and effort has been spent by fire officials helping building folks understand the fire department's mission? How familiar are fire officials with all the things a building official has to deal with? The statement of "not understanding" often goes both ways. It is important for building and fire officials to establish an open, honest relationship. This includes one-on-one communication. Both individuals must be cognizant of the other's mission, obstacles and strengths. Only through this common understanding can both leverage the other's capacity and understanding to do the right thing...an effective job of gaining code compliance and providing a safe building for occupants and the fire fighters who may be called to mitigate an emergency in the building. Successful fire prevention programs are built upon coalitions. Your building official should be your strongest coalition in fire prevention!
Building officials typically spend much more front-end time with contractors and the development industry than the fire service. Many times this is because of the structure of the organization in which building departments are found. Many times the building department is organizationally in the same division as community or economic development and planning. Many building officials find this to be organizationally a conflict in the intent of providing life safety services. Building officials may have worked in the construction trades and some have formal education of common building practices.
The building official must be closely in tune with the contracting community, as they are his/her primary customers. Naturally the building official provides a service that ultimately benefits the general public by protecting their interests for health, safety and welfare. They are the first line of contact with the developer in discussion of how the development fits into the master plan for the municipality. Typically, the permitting process is managed through the building department. A conflict between individuals and departments directly impacts the contractors and developers because they depend heavily on their decisions/interpretations and jurisdictional requirements. Many times these decisions cost them time and money.