Law would re­quire over­sight of fire in­spec­tions

State sen­a­tor’s bill would re­quire lo­cal fire de­part­ments to make an­nual safety re­ports

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Thomas Peele tpeele@ba­yare­anews­group.com

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.

Hill

JANE TYSKA — STAFF AR­CHIVES

Con­struc­tion con­tin­ues on a build­ing at 2551San Pablo Av­enue in Oak­land. Hill says his leg­is­la­tion would “ad­dress the ac­count­abil­ity gap.”

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