Fire marshal pushes for more inspections

He seeks additional funds from county to reach all businesses

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

Published:

 

On any given day, Miguel Bautista, a Clark County fire inspector, is busy putting out would-be fires before they begin, checking to make sure sprinklers, electrical cords and exit lights are safe and compliant with county code.

It’s a busy job for Bautista, who spent 10 years as a firefighter before working as an inspector. But if a request by the Fire Marshal’s Office is approved by the Clark County council, it could get even busier.

Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway is requesting changes to county code, as well as a budget allocation for additional staff, that would allow inspectors to enter all Clark County businesses more frequently.

Current county code requires fire inspectors to visit certain higher-risk public buildings once a year, Dunaway said. Schools, medical centers, hotels and motels, and manufacturing facilities that house certain flammable chemicals or materials are among the buildings inspected every year. As a result, only a quarter of the businesses in Clark County are inspected annually, Dunaway said. The rest are only inspected when they start or if a serious enough complaint comes into the Fire Marshal’s Office.

“The public expectation is that the county is aware these businesses … are operating within the minimum law, and they don’t know that unless we’re inspecting these things,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway is proposing that the county impose a schedule in which businesses are inspected on a one-, two- or three-year rotation. That would likely require additional funding for one or two more inspectors, whose salaries are between $28.22 and $37.34 an hour, Dunaway said.

“I just want to get to a point where we are seeing everything on a periodic basis,” Dunaway said.

Clark County’s existing occupancy inspection program is currently funded at about $350,000 a year for salaries and benefits for two inspectors, Community Development Director Marty Snell said.

Acting County Manager Mark McCauley said at a recent Clark County council board time that the department is “funded austerely.”

The proposed changes, if approved, could do more to keep the public and first responders safe, Bautista said.

“Right now, we’re tied by a county ordinance that doesn’t allow us to go everywhere,” he said. “It’s like fighting a battle with a hand tied behind your back.”

The Clark County council will hear the fire marshal’s request at a work session early next month. The council does not vote in work sessions, but could bring the issue back for a vote at a later council meeting.