Majority Of Fire Inspections Don’t Check Out

Assistant Fire Chief JoAnne Rice inspects an emergency exit sign outside her office at Gainesville Fire Rescue. Proper lighting, signage and open doorways are critical mainstays of a compliant fire inspection.
Assistant Fire Chief JoAnne Rice inspects an emergency exit sign outside her office at Gainesville Fire Rescue. Proper lighting, signage and open doorways are critical mainstays of a compliant fire inspection.” Valerie Crum / WUFT

New statistics released on statGNV by the City of Gainesville reveal that more than half of all buildings inspected have received violations.

The city began collecting data in 2011 and the data was made available to the public beginning September 2014.

The newest information added to the open-data dashboard, from September 2014, shows that about 26 percent of regular building inspections in Gainesville resulted in no violations because the buildings were in compliance with all city and state fire codes.

“It’s a number that I’d like to see go up significantly,” said JoAnne Rice, assistant fire chief of Gainesville Fire Rescue.

Over 70 percent of existing inspected buildings received some type of violation.

The fire department does not track the type of violations found during inspections, but typical violations include broken emergency exit signs, incorrect outlet cover plates and untested fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

“If we see something that we think is imminently dangerous, they are required to fix that right then,” Rice said. “If I go into a business and one of the exits is blocked or locked, I’m either closing them down that day or they are going to unlock that door.”

Before a new building can open, the city’s Department of Building Inspection checks it for compliance with the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

“I’m seeing it when it’s new and fresh,” said Daniel Starbuck, fire protection specialist for the Department of Building Inspection. “It’s easy to comply when it’s being built; it’s harder to keep things up after it’s been completed.”

After a building opens, the state only mandates annual inspections for multiple-occupancy buildings, such as residential locations and schools.

“Right now, the annuals are getting done, and the ones that are not required are not,” Rice said. “We’re not working on those.”

The expanded data, posted on statGNV in January, shows 1,022 initial inspections were completed in 2011. The most recent data for 2014 shows a total of 477 inspections.

Ideally, every building in Gainesville would be inspected every three to five years, Rice said.

“We’re probably more on a one-to-seven year rotation right now,” she added.

Rice said the decision to prioritize was necessary after long-term budget and staffing problems in the Risk Reduction Bureau, the department of Gainesville Fire and Rescue responsible for inspections.

“We have had some shortages…. We were on a hiring freeze in this last year [2014],” she said. “[The] bureau has been cut several times over the past few years.”

Gainesville Fire Rescue suffered budget cuts as far back as 2009 when the adopted city budget plan decreased the department’s budget by $24,601, which accounted for 0.18 percent of its annual budget. This was followed by more cuts in 2010 totaling $930,980, or 6.09 percent of its annual budget.

Prior to the loss of staff due to budget reasons, multiple inspectors were also on extended family,medical and injury leave.

“If we were to take into account the reduction in staffing that they had, the total output of initial inspections and the overall account of what has occurred makes sense,” said Samantha Wolfe, senior analyst of administrative services for the City of Gainesville.

Fewer fire inspectors led to fewer inspections and less time for public education. The statGNV data shows that in October 2013, Gainesville Fire Rescue held 40 public education events. A few months later, in January 2014, they held only 17.

Rice said she has refocused the bureau on education and plans to expand the initiative in 2015 through more public events and in-depth inspections.

“If I can get them [business owners] to understand the need for it and why it’s important, then they can make a change,” she said. “When we do that, then they can become compliant from year to year.”

Wolfe noted a recent consistency in the number of businesses passing initial inspections, which she attributed to an uptick in public outreach and training efforts toward the end of 2014.

The count for these events is not yet available on statGNV, but according to a data set provided by Wolfe, the city reached 15.48 percent of the population through public education efforts in 2012-2013.

“We have become accustomed to tracking the data,” said Wolfe. “I think the new thing that this system has allowed us to do is really be able to visualize it and more dynamically make changes if needed and…know if we are on the right path.”

About Valerie Crum

Valerie is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news

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