Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) personnel from each fire station in the city will be checking buildings of businesses and “assemblies” for fire-code violations this year instead of designated civilian fire-prevention-bureau staff conducting the inspections.
The change is being implemented to make the inspections more efficient and cost-effective as the department enters a new staffing model in coming weeks amid recent budget cuts, said Rich Brandt, LBFD spokesperson. “With recent changes and cutbacks, we just didn’t have staff to keep up with those inspections,” he said.
The inspections started last month and will continue through May.
The LBFD annually conducts more than 600 inspections of assemblies, which are defined under the California Fire Code as, “the use of a building or structure… for the gathering of persons for purposes such as civic, social or religious functions, recreation, food or drink consumption or awaiting transportation…” when in excess of 50 persons. Assembly structures range from small restaurants to large churches and institutions, Brandt said.
Having sworn firefighters arrive in fire engines instead of a designated fire-prevention staff member to inspect assembly structures also helps avoid scams, he said. Last year, there were reports of imposters fraudulently propositioning businesses to charge $250 for building inspections, Brandt said.
“The only people who are going to be coming out to your business is the fire department,” he said. “It’s [not] hard to tell that it’s a firefighter when they’ve got a big, red fire engine out in front.”
Fire-department officials stated in a press release that the change in assembly inspections assures “the criteria evaluated are based on fire code and not a potential ploy by a private concern as was reported last year.”
Brandt added that the new inspection procedure also helps businesses and fire companies to get acquainted with each other. “Local fire stations will get to meet the business owners and assembly owners on a personal level… and will also get to be familiar with all of the [inner] workings of assemblies,” Brandt said. “It’s more of a personal touch for fire departments.”
He said the assembly-inspection cycle lasts through the first half of the year, while hotels and multifamily structures, such as apartments, to which fire-station personnel are already assigned, are inspected in the second half. Brandt said the department is rolling out a new program for multi-family-building inspections later this year.
Fire-department officials added that the state’s fire-code law “was developed not only using reasonable assumptions on parameters such as evacuation time but also on the experience gained from unfortunate incidents where there was significant loss of life.”
Although all elements described in the inspection form may not apply to every business, fire-department officials note that the code’s requirements “provide a good reference,” adding that “awareness of the standards and attending to discrepancies before the inspection will make this process easier for all.”
The following are general guidelines from the LBFD for making sure an assembly building is up to fire code:
• assure that certifications for protection systems such as cooking-hood extinguisher, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and portable fire extinguishers are up-to-date
• decorative wall coverings and materials such as drapes and even Christmas trees are to be fire-resistive
• emergency exits are to have “panic hardware” and an open and clear pathway identified by a lighted sign (all are to have at least two code compliant exits)