The Fire Safety Management (FSM) Division of the Lakeland Fire Department is headed by Fire Marshal Cheryl Edwards. This division of LFD plays a pivotal role in maintaining the safety mission of the department as 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
The department’s Fire Marshal is the authority having 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 that help keep Lakeland safe as well as attractive for commercial interest. All commercial occupancies and residential occupancies of three units or more fall under the authority of the FSM Division. The authority of FSM is to conduct plans review, code enforcement, fire investigation, and to adopt local fire ordinances as derived through Florida State Statutes.
The Fire Marshal operates the FSM Division with a staff of five, full-time Fire Safety Inspectors and Fire Investigators and an Office Associate II. Fire safety inspectors are trained firefighters, fire inspectors, and in some of the inspector’s cases’ sworn law enforcement officers badged through the Lakeland Police Department. This is particularly helpful to LFD in that the Fire Investigators that are also sworn officers have full arrest powers and do apply those when investigating cases of arson.
The inspectors and investigators of the Fire Safety Management Division are the friendly faces that interact with commercial interest in Lakeland. This is a direct result of commercial building and facility inspections making up a bulk of the Fire Safety Management division’s work. These inspections 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 and 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 affects an entire community as well as the neighborhood blight that may result from a building being shuttered.
The data from incidents in 2015 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 7,000 inspections to ensure that fire code is being abided.
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 division 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’. This system has been in use since 2014 creating greater efficiencies that have improved service in 2015.
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 system 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 has been experiencing a boom in commercial industry in the past five years and Lakeland saw the addition of millions of new square feet for commercial use in 2015; all of which needs to be closely inspected for safety by the FSM team.
A LFD Fire 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 as the Lakeland Fire Department can. This in turn benefits the residents of Lakeland.
In 2015, the division investigated 54 fires, of which 10 were commercial. The reduced number of fires in commercial facilities in Lakeland is an area of pride for the members of FSM and one that we believe to be in large part due to a diligent inspection program in co-operation with facility managers/tenants.