Newell: Fire inspectors needed

PARKERSBURG – One of Mayor Bob Newell’s proposals for combating slum and blight in the city could also address a long-standing issue in the fire department – a lack of fire inspector coverage.

The most attention-grabbing aspects of the mayor’s proposed offensive against run-down, vacant structures were plans to borrow $1 million to raze a few dozen structures as soon as possible and institution of a $100-a-month fee on owners of property that has been vacant and not maintained for a year or more.

But Newell is also asking council to consider creating eight fire inspector positions that would be filled by firefighters working regular shifts.

“What we’re trying to do is take some of the things that the state enforces under the Fire Marshal’s office and put it under city code” for firefighters to cite, Parkersburg Fire Chief Eric Taylor said.

That would free up code enforcement personnel to address other matters, Newell said. It could also provide the city with regular fire inspectors, something it’s been without since Capt. Tim Flinn returned to shift work about a year ago.

“From those ranks (we may) be more likely to find a chief inspector somewhere down the road,” Newell said.

Parkersburg City Council recently rejected Newell’s proposal to allow a qualified civilian to serve as chief fire inspector. He said the department has been unable to find a firefighter to take the job because they can make more working a 54-hour shift than the chief inspector’s 40-hour-a-week schedule, even with its higher hourly rate of pay.

Flinn has still been covering inspector duties, but that has caused him to accrue additional overtime.

Newell said he will propose that council create the additional inspector positions with an increase in pay. The amount has not been determined, and the positions would be filled through civil service testing, he said.

Jody Casto, president of Firefighters Local 91, said the only information union members have on the proposal is what’s appeared in the newspaper.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what is actually in store,” he said.

Casto said he and some other firefighters who have inspection training but not the full certifications to be a chief inspector had helped out with inspecting buildings from time to time in years past. It could be a challenge to integrate inspection duties into normal shift work, he said.

“It’s hard to complete them (inspections) in a timely manner,” Casto said. If a fire or medical call comes in, “we have to leave that inspection to go do our main duty.”

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work, Casto added.

“It could work if you have the right guys in there and a good chief inspector managing it,” he said, noting the need to coordinate with other city departments.

Newell said if the proposed positions are filled, a chief inspector might not be needed.

“I don’t know that it’s necessary if you have eight fire inspectors and a fire chief,” he said.

Taylor noted everything is in the planning stages at this point..

“We’re just trying to think outside the box really,” he said. “Ultimately it comes down to logistics and what you can make work.”