This inspection post is going to be based on the 1000+ inspections I have done for insurance companies. Yes I was an insurance monkey, and I learned a lot doing it. Namely; Don’t trust a home owner to do what’s right. Keep in mind that you will be bound by your local codes and fire prevention division.
I’ll try to keep it brief.
Some departments frown on photography. The main reason is because when you go to court they will try to prove that you don’t know how to take pictures. Been there, done that. But the fact remains: If you can prove that those pictures were taken at that place AND at that time the defense comes to a screeching halt. I’ve gone to court to represent land lords and just the fact that I was there with photos ended the case. Take a picture of the building when you are walking up, then take one of the building number with as much of the building as possible in the picture, this proves where you are. Make sure your camera is set to record the time with the picture info which is very common, and make sure the time is right. Now you are timing your inspection. A lawyer will have a hard time proving that you went somewhere else during the few minutes between pics. DO NOT edit the pictures.
Get a good look around. Are there any power lines in the way, are they being pulled off the building? Is the building straight? Do any questions pop into your mind as you look at it. Can an engine and truck operate as they need to? If not it’s time to document it. Is this the most commonly used entrance to the building?
“Hi I’m Anchorpoint, I need to do a quick walk-through of your building. Do you have time now or can we make an appointment?” Remember, nothing is wrong, yet. Explain about how pre-planning helps everybody including tenants and the fire department. If we can find the utilities we can shut them down quicker if needed. If it is an inspection let them know what you will be looking for. Don’t leave without an appointment.
Now that you have the landlords attention, take a walk around the outside. You know what to look for; exits, building falling apart, trash piles, fire hazards, etc…
5. Alarm System
Is it in Trouble Mode? Does it actually function or is it still there from the previous tenant? What does it protect and are there smoke detectors attached to it? Maybe it’s a burglar alarm and the tenant doesn’t even know.
6. Interior Hazards
Trash buildup, living in filth is very common. Hoarders are a HUGE hazard. This has to be documented and addressed. Falling ceilings, structural damage, gas tanks in the house, welding operations in the house, poorly made repairs, the list goes on and on. My advice is don’t waste your time looking at every detail, the issues will probably present themselves, unless of course you are the fire inspector.
7. Utility Locations
You need to know if they are secured, hidden and just where they are so you can find them later.
8. Special Hazards, Special Services Required
Commercial cooking requires a vent hood, and vent hoods require cleaning. The funny thing here is the law required “cleaning as needed” but the insurance companies required every 6 months. There are dozens of things involved with cooking. Day cares require permits, painting booths require vents and paint storage. I won’t bore you with that but keep in mind special hazards require special services.
9. All Areas Inspected?
Did you miss anything? What about roof access? Adjoined buildings? Tunnels dating back to the civil war? Did you look in the crawl spaces? Open all doors that you are allowed to, make sure they work and where they go, you’ll get a surprise one day.
10. Wrap Up
Tell them what you think. Tell them what they need to fix. If you are giving them a break on something you NEED to follow up on it. File an abatement or call the chief and let him know what’s going on there, now it’s his problem. If you don’t document or follow up you can get sued for breech of duty. If something goes wrong and they have a financial loss they will say the fire department knew about it.
Tell whoever walked around with you, tell the chief, enter it into the CAD, File an abatement. Whatever is appropriate to do, you need to do. Then follow up.
Oh yeah, legal. If you do what your are supposed to do you won’t have any problems. If you forget to follow up or file the abatement do it NOW. If you get called into court you can review your notes. It’s ok. Remember it’s not personal. Too many people take this personal. The property owner thinks it’s cheaper to go to court than install a sprinkler system, so what. You have to do your job, and you also have to look out for the other firefighters.