Friday, April 3, 2020

Fire inspectors not billing for permits, yet, amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 4:10 PM

Fire Marshal Brett Lacey - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Fire Marshal Brett Lacey
Colorado Springs Fire Department inspectors remain on the job, but they're not lowering the boom on some businesses like they normally would and it's unclear if all the permit fees they impose will be waived or merely postponed.

Reached by phone, Fire Marshall Brett Lacey tells the Indy his inspectors understand the trauma local businesses, many of which have shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, are experiencing, but the public's welfare is of primary concern.

"The fire and life safety of buildings, businesses and service providers in this community is more important now than maybe ever before," he says, "because we're in a worldwide crisis where people have had to shut things down rapidly and do things in a totally different way.

"What we don't want to see is, people making decisions that may [negatively] impact fire and life safety. We want businesses to remain open. We also recognize nationally if a business closes as result of a fire, 51 percent of those businesses don't reopen," he says."We want to make sure we are taking care of our community the best way we can. We appreciate the burden on everyone right now, so we want to collaborate with them, but we want to maintain a safe environment in our community. When we kick start everything [after the virus threat subsides] we want to make sure we are as safe as we were and can recover as fast as possible."

That means that permits charged for certain inspections may be reduced or postponed, which could have a significant impact on the city's budget.

Such fees range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand and, in a normal year, exceed $500,000, Lacey says. (Mayor John Suthers has said he expects to see sales tax collections plummet by millions of dollars this year due shutdowns caused by the virus.)

Some businesses that have closed abruptly are difficult( if not impossible) to inspect, but crews remain busy inspecting those that remain open, including auto repair shops and businesses that store hazardous materials.

"We're still going to those locations," he says. "We have a number of permits we put on annual inspections, such as restaurants and assembly occupancies. They require an annual inspection to operate. But because of all the closings, we can't get in."
click to enlarge Norris-Penrose Events Center has been inspected as a possible shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Norris-Penrose Events Center has been inspected as a possible shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lacey's division also is charged with inspecting potential sites to house the sick, including City Auditorium, which is being converted for use to house homeless people who are symptomatic, and Norris-Penrose Events Center.

City-owned City Auditorium, he says, does not have sprinkler or fire alarm systems, while the Norris-Penrose Event Center, owned by the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation, has a sprinkler system in place and is currently installing alarms.

While Lacey is willing to give business owners time to correct code violations, "What I don't want is a tragedy upon a tragedy," he says. "Our job is to identify problems or issues. We're going to  try to work more as an advocate or a consultant. Let's do something to mitigate things until there's a budget flexibility to where it can be fixed the right way.

"I've told staff to hold on to permits, don't invoice, until the city decides how to deal with that," he says.

Despite a raft of closed businesses, he says his inspectors are busy inspecting those that are open, as well as lending a hand with investigating fires' origin and cause.

"We have got such a horrendous backlog of work between establishing training manuals, because we were so busy the last few years," he says. "Currently we're catching up on a lot of critical and needed paperwork and training."

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