Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part III

The primary responsibility of any fire prevention official is to enforce the fire codes adopted by their respective jurisdiction. The common highest goal in any fire prevention effort is providing fire for fire and life safety protection in a facility or structure. State and local ordinances mandate where the responsibility for fire prevention and code enforcement lies. The ultimate responsibility may often rest with a fire chief or department head and be delegated to a specific work section or other individual dependant on the size of the department and municipality.

Fire prevention and code enforcement is not effective without legal support and advice. State Fire Marshal's across the country rely on legal assistance from their respective Attorney General's offices; where as larger local jurisdictions use the expertise of their jurisdiction legal departments. State statutes identify the authority for each state and where that authority is placed. State Fire Marshals defer that authority to local jurisdictions where a Fire Marshal or person responsible for those duties exists. Local jurisdictions must have specific ordinances in place that designate the responsibilities of the Fire Department and Fire Prevention units. With out this legal foundation, the enforcement aspect of any unit is ineffective.

Any Inspector, Fire Marshal, Fire Protection Specialist, or person charged with the responsibilities of fire prevention and code enforcement---regardless of their title, must, for their own protection understand what state statutes, laws and local ordinances create the position in which they serve. They must be fully knowledgeable of the legal requirements that allow them to conduct fire prevention activities and exactly what the constraints and limitations of their authority are. In many communities across the country, fire prevention and code enforcement personnel are granted limited police power to enforce fire codes within their respective jurisdictions. Continuous and updated law enforcement training is absolutely necessary in these cases in addition to on-going training in fire codes and fire prevention. Extreme caution must always be exercised in order to avoid violations of certain civil rights.

Liability becomes a critical issue when authority for enforcement is given. It is simply just not enough to say that a person performing code enforcement functions cannot be held liable for their acts. In fact, this is really the furthest thing from the truth. Model fire codes and local ordinances address liability issues throughout the country, however, anyone of these can be challenged by anyone at any given time in most courts throughout the land. Inadequate or negligent performance in conducting the duties of a fire prevention or code enforcement officer can be challenged and in some cases, held up by the courts.

Fire prevention and code enforcement officers have a legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to accurately perform fire inspections based on the fire codes they are charged with enforcing. Building owners and representatives will almost always develop a sense of fire safe security if they have received a passing fire inspection on their building or place of business or they must have clear documentation of any code deficiencies or violations noted during an inspection.

Fire prevention and code enforcement officer normally have the right to enter a property for the purpose of performing a fire inspection. In the majority of inspections performed, Inspectors will encounter no resistance from building representatives. However, Inspectors must be constantly aware that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on behalf of property owners in many cases where right of entry was challenged.

The primary responsibility of a fire prevention office is to gain compliance with applicable codes and ordinances. This entails being able to effectively educate property owners and business representatives as to what fire code requirements are applicable to them and ensure that they understand the importance of those requirements. Fire Inspectors find themselves wearing a multitude of different hats dependant upon the situation they are dealing with. Those roles include a varied combination of firefighter, lawyer, police officer, counselor, consultant, and advisor. They somehow manage to perform all of these roles as need while balancing on a politically narrow fence.

The responsibilities of a fire prevention/code enforcement officer offer few but very gratifying rewards. Every inspection performed or violation corrected results in a safer condition than which they arrived. These responsibilities must be taken seriously with the highest degree of professionalism and knowledge of the codes, ordinances and laws they must enforce.