Monday, January 22 , 2018, 11:05 pm | Fair 57º


Ron Fink: Proposed Elimination of Lompoc Fire Marshal a Bad Idea

Recent budget negotiations in Lompoc have produced some questionable suggestions by Councilmember Jim Mosby. The latest is to take a step backward and “provide the savings if the fire marshal was moved back as one of the 3 battalion chiefs.”

The position of fire marshal was created by a unanimous vote of the City Council when members approved the Fire Department Master Plan a few years ago.

Mosby is no fan of code enforcement and the commercial properties he maintains show it. Many property owners in town who just don’t like the rules, even if it means their tenants can be assured they live in a safe environment, are big supporters of Mosby’s.

A fire last year in Oakland underscores the need for an aggressive fire-prevention and code-enforcement program. Many other deadly fires across the U.S. over the last several decades can be attributed to the same reasons.

A commune in an old industrial building known as the Ghost Ship caught fire during a concert at about 11 p.m. Dec. 2, 2016; 36 people died during the deadliest fire in Oakland history.

The loss of life in this fire was unnecessary and could have been prevented if the building’s owner and his tenant had followed the rules and made this a safe place for their tenants, and if the city of Oakland had an aggressive fire inspection program.

Would Mosby like to see a report like this, which appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on Sunday, July 30, about a preventable incident in Lompoc? 

“Others may have played a bigger role in this tragedy (referring to the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland): the building owner who rented out a firetrap and did not make improvements despite numerous complaints to the city; the Oakland Fire Department, whose personnel could see from the outside of the building that it was in a severe state of disrepair yet never conducted an inspection; the Oakland Police Department, which fielded more than 30 citizen complaints yet obviously did not further investigate.”

As a planning commissioner, I have participated in several public hearings over the years where applicants are requesting we approve a project after the fact.

In other words, there are and have been numerous unpermitted modifications to many commercial buildings and homes, especially garages being converted to living spaces, throughout town. I suspect this is a common occurrence in many cities.

This council member doesn’t understand that the two functions (fire marshal and operations battalion chief) are totally different and require different skill sets to perform their duties. Both jobs require the full attention and energy of the person doing them.

The fire marshal has serious responsibilities which include reviewing new construction plans, physical inspection of properties, preparation of technical reports describing conditions found, preparing legal documents when owners fail to comply, investigating the cause of fires, and testifying in court to name a few.

Since the appointment of a fulltime fire marshal, the city has significantly improved the fire prevention program:

Compact and frequently low-income multi-family residences are being inspected; commercial properties, specifically public assembly areas, are receiving more attention; and new construction/renovation plans are quickly and professionally reviewed.

Meanwhile, the operations battalion chiefs, who are only on duty 10, 24-hour-days a month (some of which are weekends and holidays), are concerned with the day-to-day operation of the Fire Department and are more focused on training, staffing, apparatus maintenance and directing fire suppression and rescue efforts during an average of 3,500 emergencies that occur in Lompoc each year.

Mosby has consistently resisted any effort to improve life safety in Lompoc. He has asked several times for council hearings to clarify, justify and/or explain why and now how much it costs to protect the community.

Some view this as due diligence or “getting the government out of my business.” Others see it as a harassing tactic designed to eliminate an effective public-safety program.

To even consider or suggest the fire marshal be eliminated and then rely on the availability of an additional duty battalion chief who is available for only 10 days a month to developers as the city grows is irresponsible.

It also demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about how communities can remain safe for their residents.

Yes, the budget needs to be trimmed by $1.8 million, but not at the expense of public safety. We don’t need a Ghost Ship in Lompoc.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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