The City of Clinton will begin performing fire inspections for the city and its extraterritorial jurisdiction on July 1, while the county will do the same for the rest of Sampson and its other municipalities.
Last year, the county approved a plan by which it would continue to conduct fire inspections for towns, but it would come at a cost. The alternative was for towns to seek their own fire inspector, an option the city approved earlier this year.
Since that time, city staff, including Clinton Fire Chief Scott Phillips, worked to establish an in-house fire inspections program and added a Fire Inspector Level III to the roster. City fire inspection schedules will occur on one, two or three year cycles depending on the type of business. Most businesses will fall in the three-year cycle.
The Clinton fire inspector will conduct a walk-through of each business to explain the process and educate owners about the fire code. During a typical inspection, the fire inspector will help business owners identify potential safety hazards in need of correction, especially those requiring immediate attention. For hazards that a business cannot correct immediately, the fire inspector will work with the business to allow time for the correction.
After the established time, the inspector will return to ensure the hazard has been corrected, Phillips explained.
“It’s a new beginning for the city,” the fire chief said. “This is a great public safety tool for us and will allow us to get in and work with businesses. It’s a win-win situation. We can see what is potentially dangerous while meeting business owners. We look forward to providing this service to our community as it will help ensure the safety of our residents and reduce risk and liability for businesses.”
For years, all fire inspections within Sampson and its towns have been conducted by the county, which simply could not continue doing so without fees and more personnel, Emergency Management director Ronald Bass said.
State law indicates that counties are under no statutory obligation to offer such services within incorporated municipalities. Bass presented a proposal last fall for additional staffing and a fee schedule that would allow the county to conduct fire inspections countywide to meet the requirements of the Fire Prevention Code as of July 1, 2016. The fees will ensure no additional cost is shouldered by the county.
The county has provided the service across Sampson and in each municipality since fire prevention inspections were mandated by the state in the early 90s. Sampson, unlike many throughout the state, has not implemented inspection fees to defray the cost of delivering the service.
The new fees will fund the additional staff necessary to do countywide inspections “efficiently and equitably,” Bass has noted. With the City Council’s action to add its own inspector, only one inspector is being implemented for the rest of the county. The majority of the inspections are conducted within the city.
In Clinton, fees will range from $25 for structures up to 50,000 square feet up to $200 for structures greater than 200,000 square feet. County inspection fees will range from $50 for structures 5,000 square feet up to $250 for those greater than 100,000 square feet.
According to Phillips, there will be no charge for follow-up visits if city business have corrected the safety hazard. If the hazard still exists after the follow-up visit, the business will be assessed a fee to ensure compliance and the fire inspector will set another inspection date.
“We downgraded the penalties,” Phillips noted. “We did not want to come out heavy-handed.”
For the county, an invoice for all inspection and permit fees will be issued to the respective business, which will remit all fees to the jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction will be responsible for collections and the Fire Marshal’s Office will provide a monthly statement for payment to each municipality.
“I think this is the future of the inspection program in this county,” Bass has stated.
Phillips said it will likewise be a positive step for the city.
“This will also allow the fire department and the city to help with public safety and improve the investments of those who own property in our community,” he remarked. “This will also allow our personnel to have better knowledge of the contents of these properties to improve strategies for fire suppression.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.