Inspectors with the Elkin Fire Department have started fire code inspections of businesses and multi-family residential facilities in town. After finding similar violations during recent inspections, the fire officials want to make sure those who are subject to inspections know what may need to be fixed ahead of a pop-in visit.
Fire code inspections are not just for businesses, but also for residential facilities with more than two units for families, explained Elkin Fire Chief Mike Morton. For those whose locations qualify for inspections, Morton said appointments aren’t scheduled ahead of time, instead the fire officials show up unexpected and do a walk-through of a building.
Violations of the fire code, which is enforced throughout North Carolina, are subject to fines. Then the site owners are given 30 days to correct any violations.
The fire department is mailing out a letter to owners and/or occupants of properties within the town limits which are or may qualify for inspections for fire code compliance, Morton said.
“This letter is a result of feedback the town has received about the state-mandated periodic inspection program, as it seems many property owners and other citizens were not aware of the need for fire code inspections or the applicable provisions of the fire code,” he said. “The letter is intended to eliminate that issue by providing basic information about the fire code’s stipulations and the manner in which the Elkin Fire Department conducts inspections.”
The same fire code is used statewide for inspections, so Morton said even those property owners outside the town limits can find useful information in what he’s providing.
“The goal of fire code inspections is to encourage and support a safer community,” he explained. “The 1991 Imperial Foods poultry processing plant fire in Hamlet is often regarded as the catalyst that drove our state to become more aggressive about fire code enforcement, as that incident killed 25 and caused injuries to 54 more.
“That tragedy led the state to build a stronger inspection program, one that would hopefully keep similar events from occurring throughout North Carolina. Many provisions of the fire code exist specifically from historically significant disasters like the Hamlet Fire for this same reason,” Morton said.
Fire code compliance inspections may not be required every year, explained Morton. “Depending on the type of occupancy involved, these inspections may be required every three years, every two years, every year, or twice per year,” he said in the letter.
“We encourage you to conduct your own assessment of the facilities you own or occupy, so you may ensure you are in compliance with the fire code long before we carry out our inspection,” he tells owners and occupants in the letter. “The fire code is intended to keep everyone safe from danger.”
Some of the more frequent violations being cited include:
• Combustible waste cannot accumulate, and cannot be a nuisance or hazard.
• Combustible storage must be kept in an orderly fashion; not be within 18 inches of the ceiling in sprinklered buildings; not be within two feet of the ceiling in non-sprinklered buildings; not be present in exits, exit enclosures, boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, or electrical rooms; only occur in attic, underfloor, or concealed spaces if one hour fire protection ratings are maintained; not be within 10 feet of a property line.
• Address identification must be visible from street or road fronting the property.
• Extra address signage required if the building is not viewable from the public way.
• Address numbers must be at least four inches high with at least .5 inches stroke widths.
• Hydrants cannot be obstructed and must have a three foot clearance all around.
• Clearance of 30 inches wide, 36 inches deep and 78 inches high must be maintained around electrical service equipment.
• Only authorized multi-plug adapters may be used, and only when used in a safe manner.
• Extension cords cannot be used as permanent wiring and may only be used as authorized.
• No open wiring splices or open junction boxes are permitted.
• Portable fire extinguishers must be installed as required and installed correctly; inspected every 30 days, tested and maintained annually; unobstructed, unobscured, properly mounted; distributed and sized appropriately.
• Fire department connections must be accessible without obstructing access for other apparatus; visible from the street or indicated by an arrowed sign; marked by signage with letters at least six inches high; unobstructed, with clearance 36 inches wide, 36 inches deep, and 78 inches high; designated by signage directly at each FDC with raised letters at least one inch high; equipped with backflow prevention devices; inspected, tested, and maintained as per NFPA 25.
• Occupancy load certificates must be posted in assembly areas.
• Exit signs must be in place and illuminated with emergency power backup.
• Means of egress must be continuously maintained free of obstructions or impediments.
Morton said these and other compliance items can be found on the Elkin Fire Department website at www.elkinfire.com, and more in-depth information is available in the state’s fire code at http://codes.iccsafe.org/North%20Carolina.html.
“When a fire inspection is completed, the occupant will be provided with a copy of the inspection report, preferably by email,” Morton explained in the letter. “The town charges fees for these inspections, and fines will also be assessed for any violations that are not immediately corrected. These fees and fines will be assessed to the property owner.”
A re-inspection will be done at least 30 days after any previous inspection if violations are found, he said.
“We encourage the occupants and owners to share information with one another and to work together towards establishing safer facilities and a safer community,” Morton said.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.