Chip Bancroft, vice president of the Suffolk County Fire Chiefs Council
The Vice President of the Suffolk County Fire Chiefs Council said his organization will file oversight complaints against Riverhead Town with the state Codes Division if the town doesn’t increase the number of fire marshals it has.
Chip Bancroft, the vice president of the county group, addressed the Town Board on the issue Tuesday night, saying that based on town fire marshal reports he received through a Freedom of Information Law request, the town’s fire marshals completed only 238 building inspections in 2014 out of a total of 1,829 commercial properties, or 13 percent, due to the high workload they have. They also investigated 22 structure fires, eight vehicle fires, six hazardous material reports, one carbon monoxide case and 61 other cases.
By law, all commercial properties must be inspected once a year.
If the oversight complaints are filed, the state will come down and start helping with inspections, for which they would charge the town a fee, and it could also issue fines, Mr. Bancroft said.
Riverhead Town currently has two full time fire marshals and one part timer.
The town cut one fire marshal position in 2011, a move that drew the ire of local fire departments.
Supervisor Sean Walter questioned the numbers Mr. Bancroft cited, even though Mr. Bancroft got those numbers from the town.
“I would love to show you what the fire marshal shows me as to what they have to inspect and, in fact, it’s nowhere near 1800,” Mr. Walter said.
The supervisor said the town has plans to hire a fire prevention inspector using money the town receives from false alarm fines, money that currently is made available to the individual fire departments.
The difference between a fire marshal and a fire prevention inspector, other than the fire marshal having a higher salary, is that the fire marshal can do more things, such as investigating a fire, issuing summons, investigating hazardous material incidents, reviewing site plan applications and inspecting commercial buildings for fire safety compliance, according to Mr. Bancroft.
The fire prevention inspector would primarily inspect commercial buildings for code compliance, but Mr. Walter says that’s where the problem is, plus the inspector could work on weekends when many special events take place.
“How many fire marshals do you think this town needs?” Mr. Walter asked Mr. Bancroft.
“At least two more,” Mr. Bancroft responded. He acknowledged, however, that the fire prevention inspector would help.