Law would require oversight of fire inspections
State senator’s bill would require local fire departments to make annual safety reports
SACRAMENTO » A state senator introduced legislation Thursday to require local fire departments to make annual reports on their safety inspections following a Bay Area News Group investigation, and some departments said the rate of in- spections this year was already improving.
Sen. Jerry Hill, D- San Mateo, said S.B. 1205, would “help prevent the heartbreaking loss of life and destruction caused by fires in buildings that do not meet safety standards.” The investigation analyzed eight years of data collected from11 Bay Area fire departments. It showed spotty and sparse inspections of K-12 schools and apartment buildings, sometimes going years between inspections the state requires annually.
Oakland, one of the departments with the worst record on school inspections, reported this week that it has stepped up its inspections af- ter the news organization began collecting data last year. Since January, the department has inspected 52 percent of its schools, compared to just 28 percent in all of 2017, a fire department spokesperson said. In Redwood City, all schools have been inspected this year, a spokesperson said. In 2017
the fire department inspected only 22 percent of schools, data shows.
Contra Costa County’s fire chief said he is hiring four new inspectors and making other changes. The department may also make temporary transfers to its inspection division and hire temporary workers to ease backlogs, said Chief Jeff Carman, in an email. Buildings “with the highest potential for life loss will move to the front of the line,” he said.
That county’s inspections records were so badly maintained that the news organization could not analyze inspections of apartment buildings. Fire Marshal Robert Marshall said it was likely some buildings requiring annual inspections were not in county records at all.
“As the fire chief, I take full responsibility for the deficiencies in our pro- gram,” Carman wrote. He is scheduled to update county supervisors on the matter next week.
Hill said his legislation would force transparency and accountability into the inspection process. While required under state law, there are no required audits and reports to show how well departments do.
“Current law doesn’t set up a check or balance to determine whether the inspections are being carried out. My legislation would address that accountability gap,” Hill said in a statement. Under legislative rules limiting when new bills can be introduced, Hill had to “gut and amend” current legislation to bring his proposal to lawmakers this year.
He chose a bill originally aimed at requiring utility companies to report any known or potential safety dangers to the state Public Utilities Commision. But the PUC inacted such a requirement on its own last month, leaving the bill available to be changed, Hill said.
Because of the gut and amend process, Hill said the language of his legislation would be posted Friday.
Construction continues on a building at 2551San Pablo Avenue in Oakland. Hill says his legislation would “address the accountability gap.”