Elimination of Yakima's fire code inspector raising safety concerns

YAKIMA - Yakima's new budget leaves a hole in one vital department. While adding 12 officers, one of the cuts gets rid of the city's only fire code inspector.

This directly affects the regular checks of homes and businesses to make sure they're safe.

"All of these sprinkler systems in town have to be checked once a year and there are several companies around to do that," said Yakima Fire Code Inspector Chuck Heath.

It's Heath's job to make sure buildings and apartments conduct those checks and meet the city's fire safety standards.

His own checklist extends beyond sprinkler systems. He looks over fire extinguishers, exit signs and electrical wiring.

The annual inspections are supposed to ensure your safety.

"The companies that are servicing these different places are relying on the official from the city of Yakima," said Heath.

He visits 15 to 20 locations a day or roughly 4,000 a year.

Those not up to code get a letter and he says that's usually all it takes for an owner to correct the violation.

However, the new city budget eliminates Heath's job next month. Fire codes at places like restaurants, schools, day cares might go unenforced because of that.

It's a move that will save the city $67,000.

City Code Administration Manager Joe Caruso says the impact on public safety outweighs the savings.

"There definitely will be more fires and fires to a greater level because those violations will contribute to the fires," said Caruso.

Council Member Dave Ettl says the job could still be saved.

An annual commercial business fee of $25 to $30 might be added to pay for the position.

One business owner says more fees aren't good for business.

"These things all tend to add up and that's why you see businesses going under. You don't see new ones starting up," said H&H Furniture Owner Mark Peterson.

The possible fee will be brought up in City Council in January.

As it stands now, this is a public safety service that will soon no longer exist.

City Codes tells Action News that all new buildings still have to meet fire safety standards.

The elimination of the position means there will be no annual follow up to catch violations that could develop over time.

KIMA took it a step further to see what this could mean for your insurance rates.

Agents say it's hard to predict the immediate impact.

However, an increase in fires could make insurance more expensive.