Beaufort firefighters gear up to perform inspections

Beaufort firefighters hope a new program to inspect local businesses will prevent fires and help them quickly put out any that do occur.

Firefighters will begin canvassing 1,300 Beaufort and Port Royal businesses Feb. 1 as part of the department's new inspection program, said Lt. Dan Byrne, city fire marshal.

On the lookout for locked emergency exits, overloaded electrical outlets and other fire hazards, the department's 35 firefighters and support staff will act as "fire- and life-safety advisors," Byrne said.

"You guys are our (reconnaissance) team," Byrne said Wednesday to a group of 15 firefighters during training at Beaufort Middle School. "You will flood the entire community and filter back information to the Fire Marshal's Office so we can take it to the inspectors and put them where they need to be."

Business owners are not obligated to participate in the survey, though the names of businesses that decline likely will be forwarded to the Fire Marshal's Office, Byrne said.

Though not state certified as fire inspectors, firefighters plan to visit businesses once a year to locate any potential fire hazards. They will fill out a form advising business owners to correct any hazards found.

Byrne said he will scan the forms and assign one of the department's four certified inspectors to perform an official inspection, if necessary.

Fire Chief Sammy Negron said the program will allow firefighters to familiarize themselves with area businesses, knowledge that may come in handy in a fire.

"There's nothing worse than being called to a structure fire and not being familiar with that building," Negron said. "You have heavy smoke, high levels of heat, and you're basically going into the unknown. With this program, there's a good chance those guys have been in that building before, so they know where there are combustible materials and the ways in and the ways out if something goes wrong."

Negron said the new program also will increase the number of inspections. The city's four certified inspectors examine 400 to 500 Port Royal and Beaufort businesses a year, he said.Earlier this month, firefighters were assigned another set of duties -- noting nuisance-code violations, such as yards that are overgrown or full of trash, helping residents remedy them and issuing citations.

Plans for the new business-inspection program were in the works even before that duty was passed to firefighters, department officials said.

City manager Scott Dadson said giving the Fire Department a more active role in code enforcement isn't an indication that firefighters had too much free time.

"The Fire Department has a proactive role in fire prevention and fire education (and) keeping things from becoming hazards," Dadson said.

The department will not receive additional money to perform its new duties, Dadson said.