Guest column: Jim Burke: The future for fire code enforcement

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Guest commentary

Saturday’s Naples Daily News guest commentary headlined “Fire code services should be consolidated” is a powerful, informative and meaningful presentation of events encircling the critical issue of fire prevention. The authors Kevin Gerrity and Steve Hemping are the respective chairmen of the Golden Gate and East Naples fire districts boards of commissioners.

Both express their concerns with what they see as an effort to fragment the highly important responsibilities of the currently consolidated Fire Code Office. I must mention that Gerrity and Hemping are leading fire district boards that are writing the book on how to consolidate independent fire districts. When they opine on the subject of efficient and effective service we should all take note and pay serious attention. In addition, both are keenly aware of the life-safety responsibilities assigned to the Fire Code Office. I’ll explain.

It is no secret that structure fires have declined, dramatically, over the past 30 years. Today approximately one-half of 1 percent of 911 calls, received by fire departments, are structure fires. This downward trend is not taking place because firefighters have become more proficient at suppressing fires. (They have, in fact, become much more proficient.) It is because the men and women of fire service have led the highly successful national efforts to prevent fires. Fire-resistant building materials, smoke and fire alarms, and fire-prevention public safety efforts are but a few of the areas in which fire service has provided leadership and technical expertise.

On a day-to-day basis, the cutting edge of fire prevention is found in the Fire Code Office. It is there that trained, certified code inspectors assure that new buildings comply with existing fire codes — fire codes that are developed in close cooperation with fire service officials and are designed to save lives and protect property. It is difficult to adequately describe the importance of the responsibilities assigned to the Fire Code Office.

As Gerrity and Hemping see it, we have the potential to put the Fire Code Office in a position to better serve its clients and to do so in an effective and financially efficient manner, similar to what they are accomplishing in the Golden Gate and East Naples fire districts. They have, in fact, announced that their boards have scheduled a public workshop to discuss a plan designed to consolidate all of the functions responsible for assuring strict compliance with building codes within the unincorporated portions of Collier County. The workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Fire Code Office on North Horseshoe Drive.

The eight elected fire commissioners making up the Golden Gate (3) and East (5) fire districts boards are to be commended for providing aggressive leadership in attempting to bring increased levels of effectiveness and financial efficiency to all facets of the fire service. The residents will be the beneficiaries.

The opinions expressed above are mine and not, necessarily, those of my fellow commissioners.

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