No one likes to receive a notice of violation from the fire marshal, especially when the violation would have been easily avoidable, such as items in your storage room blocking sprinklers, a wrench missing from your sprinkler cabinet, or missed inspections (that might have helped you catch those problems before the fire marshal did).
Consequences resulting from fire code violations vary from state to state. However, they usually have a few things in common:
- Cost -- Most fire codes result in fines, and those fines become progressively higher with each day the problem goes unresolved or is ignored or with repeated violations.
- Severity Ranking -- Many fire departments will use some type of severity ranking when violations are identified to determine timelines for compliance.
- Compliance Schedule -- All notices of violation include a timeframe in which the violation must be remedied, often 30-90 days depending on the violation. However, this may be expressed in qualitative terms such as "a reasonable timeframe."
What Happens When the Fire Marshal has Completed the Inspection?
When the inspection is complete, the fire marshal will review the inspection report with you and explain what you will need to do to remedy any problems identified. The written notice of violation should:
- Clearly describe any needed corrections
- Cite the appropriate sections of the relevant code or ordinance
After you confer with the fire marshal, he/she will ask you to sign the report and give you a copy to keep for your records.
Different Types of Violations Warrant Different Responses
Violations of a Technical Nature
Many violations are minor and easy to fix, while others can require more time and expense to remedy. Minor violations might include:
- Exit signs not properly lighted
- Inadequate emergency lighting
- Missing fire extinguishers or extinguishers without current inspection tags
- A missing fire alarm pull station on a fire alarm system
Some technical violations are more serious, such as:
- One/more components of a fire alarm or sprinkler system not meeting code, but the system is still operable
- Regular doors that need to be replaced with fire doors
- Additional exits required
Technical violations such as these do not pose an immediate risk, and you will be given a reasonable amount of time to comply. Follow-up inspections are not always conducted for these kinds of violations. However, it is still important to fix them because every component of your fire protection system works together and needs to function properly to keep your building and the people within it safe. And, remember that repeated violations can carry heavier fines -- you don't want the fire marshal to find the same problem during your next regular inspection.
Life-threatening violations are severe and require immediate action to reduce the life safety risk. If you've been cited for a severe violation, you can usually expect a reinspection within 48-72 hours. Examples of severe violations include:
- Blocked or chained exit doors
- Inoperable fire alarms or sprinklers
- Exposed and energized wiring posing a fire hazard
- Unapproved heating appliances or appliances without proper ventilation
The most severe violations are those that pose such a high degree of risk that the building must be evacuated and remain unoccupied until the risk is eliminated. These are violations that pose an imminent danger and the risk of immediate harm, such as:
- A gas leak
- Carbon monoxide present
- Fire or explosion hazard
- The potential for severe structural collapse
In the rare event that the fire marshal finds such a situation during a routine inspection, he/she will call 911 to dispatch emergency personnel to your location to eliminate the hazard and will issue an inspection report and/or citations after the emergency has passed.
Your Fire Marshal Really is There to Help
Being cited for fire code violations can be frustrating and potentially very expensive, making it easy to view your annual fire safety inspection -- and the fire marshal that performs it -- as an adversary. Remember, though, that you and the fire marshal share the same important goals: protecting your building, your employees, and customers from fire. To the extent that you view the fire marshal as a trusted resource, you set the stage for a collaborative relationship that will make your inspections go smoother and help you meet this common goal.
If it's been a while since you've had your last fire safety inspection, take some time to prepare. Call Koorsen today to ensure all the components of your fire protection system are functioning properly and are up to date with all required inspections before the fire marshal's next visit.