Johnson City Press: JC fire chief doubles fire inspection force
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JC fire chief doubles fire inspection force

Becky Campbell • Aug 26, 2018 at 7:14 PM

Responding to fires and other emergencies is a priority for fire departments across the country, and the Johnson City Fire Department is no different.

But another aspect of the fire service is just as important — fire prevention. That job falls to the division of the fire department once called fire marshal. When Chief Jim Stables came on board last year, it was one area he looked at and wanted to start building on the foundation that was already there.

Last year, JCFD had two assistant fire marshals — Lori Ratliff and Mike Hill. Both had been front-line firefighters earlier in their careers, but had been promoted out of fighting fires to determining the cause and source of a fire. But part of that job also includes inspecting commercial industrial properties and other businesses to ensure they are maintaining a safe working environment for both employers, employees and patrons.

Part of re-vamping the fire marshals office is a title change.

“They used to be called assistant fire marshals, and the challenge with that is they’re looked at more like a police force and a code enforcement officer. While they do have that responsibility, I want them to be viewed by the business community and the public as educators and advocates for fire safety,” Stables said.

“We have about 6,000 commercial industrial properties in the city of Johnson City,” Stables said. “To be able to get into every one once a year. I have two fire inspectors who are basically doing that and realistically I can’t expect them to do 3,000 inspections in a year.”

The job of completing those inspections — the goal is to inspect each business once a year — had become more and more difficult as the city’s business growth kept a steady path upward.

“Given all the other duties the best I can hope for, on average, is four to six (per day),” the chief said. “I gave them four as a requirement, but (the job’s)  not 365 days a year. The usable days is about 234."

With that four-inspection per day requirement, Stables said of the two current fire prevention officers, “I’m expecting them to get 934 quality inspections.”

That is why the addition of two civilian fire prevention officers was so important for Stables.

“With the two others, I’ll be up to 934 times 4 instead of 934 times two. Eventually, I’ll put in for additional inspectors, but I have to be responsible in what I ask for because the city has a lot of needs. I have to be responsible in a restricted funding level. Yes, we need them, but I can prioritize.”

Stables said he has completed the application and interview process and has conditional offers to two candidates for the job.

“I’m not in here to beat up businesses and make it impossible for them to be in the city of Johnson City. I want to make sure they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. While we do have enforcement ability, that’s not our go-to move. Our go-to move is to teach them why it’s important so that their business stays open, they don’t have liability with injuring somebody, end up with a wrongful death or injury issue.”

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