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News / Clark County News

County building inspectors shift routines during stay-at-home order

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: May 15, 2020, 6:06am
6 Photos
Clark County building inspectors Jason Pulse, left, and Max Booth wear masks while at a building site in Salmon Creek on Tuesday afternoon.
Clark County building inspectors Jason Pulse, left, and Max Booth wear masks while at a building site in Salmon Creek on Tuesday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Jason Pulse, a Clark County building inspector, arrives at a job site, he doesn’t normally need to check in. But lately, when he has approached a series of homes under construction in Salmon Creek, he’s greeted by a man wearing a mask and standing in a garage.

Pulse enters the garage, where the masked man — a site supervisor with the company that is building the homes — asks him a series of questions. To advance, Pulse must ensure that he has protective equipment and does not display symptoms of COVID-19.

“It’s abnormal. Nothing like I’ve lived through,” Pulse said.

County building inspectors are listed as essential workers during the statewide stay-at-home order. That’s not to say, though, that their daily routines haven’t shifted considerably.

When the state began ordering businesses to close in March and implemented distancing guidelines, county inspectors and contractors alike needed to rapidly make sense of the flood of information, county Inspection Services Manager Max Booth said.

“Trying to get through the nuts and bolts of it and what it all means,” Booth said. “The builders are looking at us, and we’re going (shrugs shoulders).”

By late March, as the state directives became clearer, the county Community Development Department created several new requirements for building inspectors.

Inspectors haven’t been allowed to enter homes when residents are still inside, and they’ve needed to maintain 24 feet of separation. Conversations between inspectors and residents have been required to take place over the phone.

Inspectors have been instructed to make their own risk management decisions, Community Development Director Dan Young said.
Some inspections have been conducted through video, including re-inspections and less complex inspections. Repair mechanical inspections, for instance, have been conducted by installers as inspectors watch on video.

The county has had the video software necessary for the video inspections for several years. Over the past few weeks, inspectors have put it to significantly more use.

“You’re forced to realize how much we can do by video. We had the program for a while, but we probably didn’t utilize it to its fullest extent,” Booth said. “When the virus came through, it was something we were able to do immediately.”

The video element has made several aspects of the job more convenient, Pulse said. On the other hand, inspectors rely more heavily on checklists, rather than having a full view of the building in front of them.

“It’s remembering what we do when we’re on-site,” Pulse said. “It just takes a little getting used to.”

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Jobs sites have also featured hand-washing stations, gloves, masks and signs that detail safe practices.

“Most of the people here have been pretty receptive to what we have asked or what the county has asked us to do,” Pulse said.

Contractors have been able to maintain productive relationships with inspectors despite the constant upheaval, said Tracy Doriot, owner of Doriot Construction in Hazel Dell.

“We’ve been having pretty good luck,” Doriot said. “We just generally schedule inspections when we know no one is going to be around at the job site.”

At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, the number of inspections conducted in the county slowed to roughly 50 to 80 per day, Booth said.

Gradually, as the state continues phase one of the reopening plan, the number has risen again to about 250 per day — near average.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter