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The Inspector Police

What happens when you are asked to enforce the provisions of the code which were obviously missed by an inspector before your time?  How about when an inspector just misses the boat?  Here is our background: 

temporary shoringRecently our agency was made aware of a serious flaw in an operating hotel (the day before Christmas).  The owner of the hotel noticed multiple cracks in the ceiling of the pool area (a two story atrium over the pool, with hotel suites which open to the pool area).  The maintenance supervisor contacted a structural engineer who was very surprised by the construction techniques found in the attic space.

 The attic contained multiple wood trusses which were installed upside down, bowed, showing deflection, and were sagging approximately 9″.  The structural engineer felt he could not sleep and had to contact the building and fire departments.  A temporary measurehas been installed and now they are working on a permanent fix. 

 Obviously we are disappointed that the original design professional, contractor, and inspector did not catch the improperly installed trusses.  With the sense of liability placed on inspectors, design professionals, and contractors we (as the inspector) must continue to ensure code compliance.  If projects do not make the grade or provide a reasonable degree of safety the inspection must not pass.  We are not here to be the inspector police but to lend a hand, so this scenario does not repeat itself.  Can you imagine if the hotel roof did fall?  How much could have been prevented by a complete inspection the first time! 

While conducting an inspection on a scenario similar to above please remember your safety.  If a structural engineer has deemed a structure unsafe, don’t stand in it or below it until the problem is remedied.  The life of an inspector can be difficult.  Keep up the great cause to keep the built environment safe.  

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Arsnman4 January 5, 2008, 11:48 am

    This has always been a difficult delima when encountered. You should never burn any bridges and bad mouth a former collegue. I have always taken these types of opportunities as a chance to calm the retoric and educate. In most cases, the owners accept the fact that something was missed and needs to be changed.

    The true lesson here is the importance for all parties (enforcement officials) being involved in all phases of design, construction and acceptance. We all have stakes in the safety of the building to the public or occupants occupying the structure. Fire Service professionals look at buildigs differently than other enforcement professionals.

    We are responsible and have to assure:

    (1) Egress Safety to Occupants
    (2) Emergency Situations are planned for and
    can be managed by responding resources.
    (3) Responders can safely address situations

    We as enforcement professionals need to get over the turf battles still going on nationally withing different jurisdictional agencies and get over it. We serve the same master……. the public. It usually comes down to money though, and we in the fire service need not care about permit fees and application fees and remain loyal to the public we serve and just want to make sure the three principles noted above are met.

  • Brian Batten January 5, 2008, 1:51 pm

    We ran into a situation where a 90,000 square foot building that operates as a manufacturing plant making cardboard boxes and a storage facility. No fire protection or detection in the building.

    We found that the owner had joined two buildings together in 1995. He had a sprinkler contractor submit plans but for some reason the plan was never approved or implemented. Clearly the building needs fire suppression and detection. In 1995 the building codes required it and the owner had a responsibility to comply with the code. The Fire Department protecting the area prior to us taking over in 2005 did nothing to follow up on the violations. Furhter research showed the owner never received a certificte of occupancy. Code provisions then and now do not allow a person to occupy the facility in violation of the fire codes. We took the approach of working with the owner. He has agreed to install smoke detection throughout the building, with the agreement that if he sells the business or building, the new owner will have to provide fire suppression. The owner then started to receive bids for an automatic sprinkler system and if things work out he will install a sprinkler system. I am hopeful that the talks I have had with the owner regarding fire safety will encourage him to do the right thing. All of this has progressed since the initial assessment of the building in October of 2005 and a citation issued in 2007. The final outcome in court will depend on the owners actions.

    Brian Batten
    Fire Marshal
    City of Ferndale Fire Department


  • Alan Glogovsky January 6, 2008, 7:48 am

    I agree that you should not burn any bridges or bad mouth previouos inspectors. I will usually tell the building owner that, sometimes not all violations get caught. The previous inspector could have noticed it, got distracted for some reason and forgot about the violation. Hey it happens to all of us, myself included.

  • ARSNMAN4 January 7, 2008, 12:43 pm

    That’s for sure! Looks like Brian from Ferndale handled it with tact and properly. These kinds of situations are always difficult to deal with, knowing our political climates but as noted in Brian’s response we can always take these difficult situations and hopefully get matters resolved or worked out using existing conditions sections of the codes and administrative sections, to be able to accept reasonable alternatives to protect against the hazards. Nice Topic!

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