What is an Inspector

by Michael O'Brian on June 11, 2009

Code Weenie

A person employed to inspect something

Why is it that the term “Inspector” is not defined in many of our code books?  Even Wikipedia does not define the term Inspector based on how we utilize them in code enforcement.

Here in the United States there are many names for those responsible for enforcing an adopted code.  Previous posts have talked about the administration of the code and the need for inspectors to be problem solvers, but we never truly defined what an inspector is.  I have gone to Webster and they indicated that an inspector is “a person employed to inspect something.”  This definition would apply to most of us in the code world but it doesn’t leave a lot of power to our duties.

I continued into looking at definitions (like a good code guy would do) and looked up the term Inspect.  It is defined as “to view closely in critical appraisal, look over to examine officially.”  This definition puts in line what the duties of an inspector is based on the International Codes or NFPA.  We utilize the term inspector as a general and common name compared to what is in our adopted codes.

If we look at the term code official or deputies in the ICC administrative provisions or AHJ in NFPA 1.  The formal duties of an inspector or code official can typically be found in the administrative provisions of the adopted code.  If you look at the International Mechanical Code (2009 edition) as listed below you can see the formal potion that is created by the International Codes:

103.1 General The department of mechanical inspection is hereby created and the executive official in charge thereof shall be known as the code official.

103.2 Appointment The code official shall be appointed by the chief appointing authority of the jurisdiction.

103.3 Deputies In accordance with the prescribed procedures of this jurisdiction and with the concurrence of the appointing authority, the code official shall have the authority to appoint a deputy code official, other related technical officers, inspectors and other employees. Such employees shall have powers as delegated by the code official.

Compare the above section from the I-codes to the NFPA definition of the AHJ.  AHJ is defined as Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  NFPA administrative provisions define it as ; an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.”

This formal role listed for inspector comes from the adopted code.  This doesn’t necessarily describe the technical duties of an inspector.  Section 104.1 of the IMC Gives the Duties of the code official which are to enforce the provisions of the code.

This is similar in the NFPA 1, which gives the governing body the requirement to create an AHJ and then the document outlines the responsibilities of the AHJ

There is an informal role that the inspector plays in many communities as thier code expert.  These informal roles greatly expand the position of the AHJ or code official into what our communities expect.  It doesn’t matter if we call the positon, Fire Marshal, Electrical Inspector, Code Official, the role is to ensure the safety of our community by meeting the adopted codes which they are charged with enforcing!

What is an inspector to you?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Major Herrick June 12, 2009 at 10:58 am

What is an inspector to me?

I have often pondered that question over the years as people ask the question: What do you for a living?

Its way too easy to answer with: I’m a fire inspector. Its also somewhat confusing to people. We, as inspectors, expect people to know what we do. However, I have often had people ask follow-up questions to the answer of “I’m a fire inspector.” Such as: “So, you go to fires and figure out what caused them?” or “So, you go around and service fire extinguishers?”

As a result, I have come up with more discriptive explinations of what I do:
*Official exit sign and emergency light button pusher.
*Oficial Sprinkler system and fire alarm tag checker.
*Darwinism preventor (Google Darwin awards)
*Extinguisher service police.
*Extension cord police.
*Business-owner baby-sitter. (AKA Business owner super-nanny)
*Stuipidity Stopper!
*Complacency Cop.
…and many others that escape me at the moment, but i think you get the idea.

In my jurisdiction, we have a small prevention bureau, so each inspector does a bit of everything. There are the four major divisions of duties in prevention of Inspection/code enforcement, education, investigation, and the youth fire setter program. Day-to-day duties include buisness inspections, public complaints, new construction inspections, new business inspections, code consultations, school presentations, fire investigations, youth firesetter interviews and counseling, constant training classes, and all the paperwork that accompanies each of the above. So, to me an inspector is someone that does these day-to-day activities in an effort to make the community they serve a safer, better place to work and live.

Major Herrick
Fire Inspector
City of Sparks, NV

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Richard July 7, 2009 at 5:17 pm

What/Who is an Inspector?
My vision of an inspector is the person living next door, down the street/road that has a passion for public safety. Has the deep rooted desire to assure that your neighborhood, shopping/entertainment experiance is as safe as possible. Has the moxie to to work with their peers to assure that they are as commited to safety as they are. The worst nightmare I can think of is waking up one morning and finding out that something I was convinced to let slide, by a business owner, contractor, etc.,was the cause of injury or even worse the death of an individual or even the loss of property (jobs) that would affect any of the communities in serve.

This is the way I look at my profession. I invision it as a sacred public trust that I have the privalage of providing these services every day.

Richard Smith,
Deputy State Fire Marshal

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Wayne Morris July 14, 2009 at 8:06 am

I agree with Richard, an inspector is someone who wants to make a difference, not just bide time. For so long, we have been labeled the “sick, lame and lazy” because many inspectors have come from the ranks of the fire service, and some feel that it was that was because they couldn’t handle the job of a firefighter. What many have failed to realize is, that coming from the ranks, we tend to understand the resposibility and the importance of the Inspector. Too many of our own are killed and injured each year, and an Inspector with the right mind set, can reduce or prevent it. When we all unite, just think what can be accomplished!

Wayne Morris
Fire Inspector

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Brian Dove August 3, 2009 at 11:27 am

A Fire Inspector is a fire fighter who uses different tools and methods. Sometimes you cannot see their results, but they probably save more lives and property than all combatants put together. They really don’t need to know too much about puttin out fire but a good one will make a combatant’s job easier to do and one they will come home from everytime in the same shape they went out on it.

When the Original Plan fails, for whatever reason, then combatants are the backup plan to stop loss of life or property. Fire Inspectors are not back up they are the Original Plan and should be proactive community preservation.

Fire Inspectors are also a line in the sand between “trunk slammers” and people that bother to take the time and effort to train their people, buy the right equipment for the job, install it properly, and maintain it through out the life of the event.

One of the greatest compliments Fire Inspectors recieve is a complaint from an old timer, “we don’t get any really big ones anymore like we used to.”

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Paul Dove August 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

My philosophy concerning life safety aspects in fire prevention, inspection and fire protection, stem from the following four principles:

(1) Prevent the fire’s occurance through quality inspection and evaluation practices.
(2) Assuring the capability of the public to escape an emergency event in all venues and facilities.
(3) Assuring responder’s abilities to manage an incident with available resources.
(4) Assuring responders safe return from service to their communities.

I believe fire suppression is a failure in prevention. That’s what I try to accomplish in pre-construction consultation, plan review and inspection so I guess it defines my thought process of what a “fire inspector” should be.

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C. W. Boss June 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I must agree with the Inspectors Dove. Particularly with Brian Dove’s assessment that “Fire (Prevention) Inspector(s) are firefighters that use a different set of tools.”

Personally I believe we need to know “what” fire is, what causes it, why and how it spreads just as fire fighters do, but instead of fighting it or attempting to extinguish it after it starts… our job as “Fire Prevention Inspectors” is to help property owner/operators identify and mitigate hazards and conditions and potential hazards and conditions that ordinary folks may not recognize as problems or sources of fire, that can CAUSE, PROPOGATE or SPREAD fire and keep them from getting to the point that they actually become a real threat to life or property.

I’ve always ascribed to the concept of the 3 E’s …ENGINEERing, EDUCATION and ENFORCEMENT.

If we continue to ENGINEER the built environment, design in active fire protective materials and systems to control and minimize fires ability to start and gain a destructive foothold and provide facilities for our constituents to make a quick
un-impeded escape where and when fires do occur and;

At the same time EDUCATE our “constituents” as to the nature of common fire hazards and causes and how to prevent them from occuring and mitigate them when they’re found and;

ENFORCE fire prevention codes regulations and standards in an educational and benevolent … rather punative manner (unless absolutely necessary for the 1 to 2% that just don’t get it otherwise);

We can continue to let the “Old Timers” down easy and reminisce with them about the days of old…of “loomers”… open cab firetrucks…leather fire helmets and riding tailboard… all the time reminding them that…

FIRE IS HOT, UNFORGIVING OF ERROR, AGGRESSIVE, PROGRESSIVE, AND ABSOLUTELY DESTRUCTIVE OF THINGS AND PEOPLE – INDISCRIMINATELY!

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Mark Spoo June 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm

The definition that I learned years ago was the inspector is a tool in the fire service that keeps occupants, residents and even more so their fellow fire fighter safe.
An inspector is the reconnaissance for fire crews before the fire and a resource after the fire to make things better in that building.
An inspector is the problem solver for the building owner, business owners and suppression crews
An inspector is flexible in tasks, time management and decision making
An inspector needs to be able to think on their feet and make decisions that impact from 1 to thousands of people.
The upmost thing is an inspector needs to be human.
This is NOT a job that lets one fulfill a power trip, sense of superiority, or a stepping stone to some political aspirations.
An inspector is one that puts their heart, soul and mind into a job, considers and realizes the outcome of their actions and does what is best for the total good and to keep their fellow firefighters safe.

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Jim Yuill July 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

A fire inspector is a professional who educates the building owner/occupant/general contractor on the hazards associated with fire. It is the fire inspector’s responsibility to ensure that the above are educated while using jurisdictional codes and standards as reference tools and using as basis for their respective decisions. This is coupled with having distinct knowledge of basic fire protection engineering principles and sound enforcement tactics. Utilizing the three E’s will enhance the safety of fire personnel and occupants of buildings.

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Fire Marshal Jeff Allen November 22, 2010 at 9:15 am

Interesting comments, all. First, let me say the best compliment I’ve received is when a suppression crew visited a business and the owner asked if the Fire Marshal was with them. He told them that the Fire Marshal was very tough, but also very fair. That’s how I want to be remembered; tough but fair. (You can throw consistent in the mix too.) A true Fire Inspector (and there aren’t many in my state) is a person who treats their duties with a passion, a good communicator and open to suggestions from his peers about daily functions. A true Fire Inspector admits he doesn’t know everything and admits when he makes a mistake. I’ve seen too many make a mistake about a code interpretation and even after they realized it, they still pushed the ‘solution’ through so they wouldn’t look like they didn’t know what they were doing. Well everyone sees the mistake they made and now know for sure that he doesn’t know what he is doing. A Fire Inspector is somebody that usually isn’t a line suppression person, so he is treated very differently by the other personnel at the department. He too often is a non-commissioned law enforcement officer who is placed into some extremely uncomfortable situations from time to time and must learn how to stick handle his way out of them. A Fire Inspector is someone who tells a business owner he has to spend money yet expects a hand shake and a thank you when he leaves at the completion of the inspection. A Fire Inspector can do more damage or more good for the department overall, than all of the fire suppression personnel, on any given day. A Fire Inspector has the opportunity to tarnish or polish his badge each and every day. A Fire Inspector must be a complete professional, or he is nothing at all.

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