Annual inspections of commercial buildings may be coming soon in Salisbury Twp., Lehigh Co.
And “commercial buildings” doesn’t just mean big stores and office buildings.
They include schools, churches, gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, body shops, car dealerships – even apartment buildings with more than three units.
Salisbury’s two volunteer fire companies are urging township commissioners to pass whatever law is needed to make it happen.
James Brown, president of the five commissioners, believes a commercial fire inspection ordinance might be passed as soon as next month.
Township fire officials say they’ve been lobbying for such an ordinance for years.
They say a fire inspection program “absolutely” will save lives – including the lives of firefighters.
They also hope the commissioners will agree to hire volunteer Salisbury firefighters who already have the necessary state training and certification to become the township’s part-time fire inspectors, with enforcement powers.
If that happens, those firefighters will do annual inspections of at least 88 structures in the township, including the Lehigh Valley Hospital complex.
They’ll be looking for outdated fire extinguishers, blocked exits, sprinkler and fire alarm systems that don’t work, improperly stored hazardous materials and other violations that threaten lives and property.
Fire officials stress they need enforcement authority to levy fines against violators if necessary – although one recommends all commercial building owners should get a break on fines the first year because it’s been so long since anyone required them to be in compliance.
“We don’t want to create an uproar in the township,” said Dev Kannan, assistant fire chief for Western Salisbury.
The proposed fire inspection program was discussed in detail at Thursday night’s workshop meeting of the commissioners. Brown said they will discuss it again during their next workshop at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22 and may act on approving an ordinance at one of their September meetings.
“I want to make it happen,” said Commissioner Debra Brinton.
“The sooner, the better,” said Brown.
Commissioners hope fire officials will come up with some numbers regarding the cost.
Commissioner Robert Martucci said hiring one full-time fire inspector would cost the township $100,000 a year. The township would save money by hiring part-timers, because they don’t get benefits.
A fire inspection ordinance would apply only to commercial buildings, not single-family dwellings or two- or three-unit apartments, explained township manager Randy Soriano.
Whether owners of commercial buildings would be required to pay an inspection fee was not discussed. Also still up in the air is whether the inspections would be done every year or every other year.
It’s been estimated that inspecting all 88 buildings would take 400 hours, said township code enforcement officer Sandy Nicolo.
Nicolo said he is not a certified fire inspector.
He explained he goes out only if he gets complaints about some kind of safety problems at commercial buildings. He points out unsafe conditions that need to be addressed, which may or may not have anything to do fire risks. He indicated he can fine building managers if they don’t come into compliance within five days.
Brinton said she assumed the businesses she frequents in the township regularly were being inspected for fire safety and was surprised when she learned they were not.
Currently, the Eastern Salisbury and Western Salisbury Fire companies don’t have the authority to do regular inspections of commercial buildings.
Even if firefighters see potential fire hazards in buildings, they can’t do anything abut them, explained Kannan. “Yet when the alarm comes in we still to respond, we still need to do our job. But the risk to us is more enhanced.”