Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do local fire marshals and city inspectors really understand the law as it applies to your community?


Why is it that many local fire marshals and city inspectors seem to be heartless and uninformed when it comes to applying new and very costly Code requirements and upgrades to residential buildings that have been in existence for decades without incident? Are they aware of the section in the Florida Statutes that requires some thought and forebearance on their part when it comes to existing buildings?

Section 633.025(6) of the Florida Statutes currently provides as follows with regard to Minimum fire safety standards:

With regard to existing, buildings, the Legislature recognizes that it is not always practical to apply any or all of the provisions of the minimum fire safety code and that physical limitations may require disproportionate effort or expense with little increase in life safety. Prior to applying the minimum fire safety code to an existing building, the local fire official shall determine that a threat to life safety or property exists. If a threat to life safety or property exists, the fire official shall apply the applicable fire safety code for existing buildings to the extent practical to assure a reasonable degree of life safety and safety of property or the fire official shall fashion a reasonable alternative which affords an equivalent degree of life safety and safety of property. The decision of the local fire official may be appealed to the local administrative board described in s. 553.73.

From all of the anecdotal evidence I have received through my work with my firm’s Community Advocacy Network (CAN) , the procedures set forth above are NOT being applied. We have no reports that local fire marshals attempting to enforce the fire safety code are actually undergoing the necessary analysis and applying the Code only as needed. There are similarly no reports of “reasonable alternatives” being suggested or accepted by the fire marshals or city inspectors. Instead, many of these officials are trying to stick a square peg in a round hole which begs the question if they are (i) unsympathetic to the plight of so many struggling association members (ii) uninformed and uneducated about the requirements of the law or (iii) trying to stimulate their own mini-economy bywriting citations for all this work?

Last year Governor Crist vetoed a bill that would have provided sprinkler retrofit relief to millions living in impacted high-rises. This year, Charlie has once again threatened to veto bills (HB 561/SB 1222) that contain much-needed relief from costly fire alarm, elevator and sprinkler upgrades. A surprising move to be sure in a tough election year!

Our Legislators and our Governor need to be educated on this point. It is time to fight back. Please take a moment to call, fax a letter or email the Governor and the Lt. Governor and let them know that you are demanding their help NOW. The current law on the books requiring more sensitivity as it applies to retrofitting existing buildings needs to be enforced. HB 561 and SB 1222 need to be allowed to pass safely into law.

You can email Governor Crist at Charlie.crist@myflorida.com. You can email Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp at Jeff.kottkamp@myflorida.com. You can call both at 850-488-7146 or send a letter via fax to 850-487-0801.

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