The Fire Safety Management (FSM) Division of the Lakeland Fire Department is headed by Fire Marshal Cheryl Edwards. This division of LFD is crucial to the safety mission of the department because it applies tried and true methods for fire prevention that in turn prevent serious loss of life and property. The division is responsible for:
1) Plans Review
2) Fire Code Enforcement
3) Fire Investigation
Fire Marshal Frank Bass has jurisdiction on fire code and enforcement matters inside the city limits of Lakeland. With the Fire Marshal’s oversight, the division is responsible for ensuring the fair and equitable enforcement of statutes, laws, codes, and local fire ordinances. All commercial occupancies and residential occupancies of three units or more fall under the authority of FSM. The authority of FSM is to conduct plans review, code enforcement, fire investigation, and to adopt local fire ordinances from Florida State Statutes.
The Fire Marshal operates the FSM Division with a staff of four, full-time Fire Safety Inspectors, a Fire Investigator/Inspector and an Office Associate. Fire Inspectors are trained firefighters, fire scene inspectors, and in some cases, sworn law enforcement officers.
In 2014, FSM welcomed a new inspector, filling a vacancy left by a retirement earlier in the year. Additionally, the division shifted all of its forms and essential information into an online format for ease of access to the department and to the public.
Commercial building/facility inspections account for a bulk of FSM work. They are conducted for several reasons, some of which are:
To ensure that the required maintenance for fire protection and life safety systems are conducted in a timely manner and are conducted by licensed professionals when required. These systems provide early warning notification and fire protection to both occupants and responding fire crews during an emergency.
To ensure that activities conducted inside the building are in accordance with the designated occupancy classification of the facility. To discover and ensure the mitigation of any noted fire hazards in a timely manner.
- To ensure that means of egress are accessible and meets code for orderly evacuation during an emergency event.
A properly conducted fire safety inspection can alert the occupant/owner to any hazards which could possibly lead to a fire. The possible results of a fire in a commercial facility are many and may include injuries, the loss of life, the temporary or permanent loss of company profits, temporary or permanent job loss which affect an entire community as well as the neighborhood blight that may result from a building being shuttered.
The data from incidents in 2014 support the efforts of the department’s FSM Division by showing that there was a decrease in commercial fires in LFD’s service area. This is in part due to the division’s inspectors approximately 5,500 inspections to ensure that fire code is being followed.
The Lakeland Fire Department is committed to excellence in service both internally and externally. The FSM Division interacts most frequently with members of the community and other divisions related to buildings, permitting, and community development due to the related work they all share as Lakeland continues to grow and improve. These interactions were improved through the use of the City’s online permitting system ‘Track It’.
The initial step to ensuring that a building will be safe for occupation is to make sure that all fire code requirements have been applied which address fire department access, water supplies, and building life safety features such as fire suppression systems, means of egress, fire alarm systems, and building materials/assemblies which meet industry standards for their applied use.
The types of plans reviewed include concept review plans, site plans, construction plans, sprinkler system plans, fire suppression systems plans, fire alarm system plans, underground fire line plans, above and underground tank plans, specialty plans and plan revisions.
The review of a set of plans may take anywhere from minutes to several days or more depending on the size and complexity of the project. Lakeland saw many large new development projects in 2014 which in turn involved the Fire Safety Management team. Collectively over 2,000,000 new square feet of commercial space were added in 2014; all of which were reviewed for optimal fire safety and supervised for fire code compliance throughout construction. This is notable considering the thousands of inspections the FSM team is responsible for among other duties including fire investigations and enforcement of criminal violation of fire code.
A FSM Investigator is contacted any time a fire event occurs on commercial property, city owned property, a house of worship, a serious injury or fire death, any illegally set fire, any fire where a fire suppression system discharged or did not operate as designed, and any fire where the cause cannot be determined by responding fire units.
Fire scene investigations are conducted in order to determine the events leading up to and the origin and cause of a fire. Fire cause determination may reveal consumer product defects, careless behavior (unattended cooking, carelessly discarded smoking materials, etc.), an intentionally set fire, or the failure of a system inherent to the structure or facility (electrical, heating, air conditioning, manufacturing process, etc.).
The Lakeland Fire Department is unique in that it performs its own investigations and has dual certified investigators and sworn police officers to enforce the law if any arson or other criminal activity is discovered as the result of an investigation. The FSM team rotates on call duties so that an investigator is available at all times to perform the investigations that meet the criteria outlined above. This helps reduce investigation times in the City of Lakeland where an overburdened state fire marshal may not be able to provide as high a quality or timely of an investigation.