Oxford has had fire codes for decades, aimed at protecting businesses and citizens. However, there’s been no way to enforce the codes other than some nudging and prodding from the fire inspector.
Now, Fire Chief Cary Sallis wants to be able to “put some teeth” to the law to help his department to enforce the codes as written.
The Oxford Eagle reported that Sallis presented an amendment to the Oxford Board of Alderman that lists fines for each infraction. The public hearing on the change will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday during the next board meeting at Oxford City Hall.
“We’ve had some major issues over the years with having no penalties for violations whatsoever,” Sallis said. “An inspector can go in and say, ‘You need this fixed,” and go back several times to make sure it’s fixed, but there was no real way to enforce the codes effectively.”
Minor infractions will be given a verbal warning. After 30 days of noncompliance, the operator will be given a written notification of the code violation and 14 more days will be granted.
However, some infractions are considered to be more of a safety threat and fines can be issued immediately when those infractions are found.
Those infractions and associated fines include, but are not limited to: no street address posted or visible, $50; sprinkler heads blocked, $500; sprinkler or fire alarm inoperable, $200; blocked exit, $500; no illuminated exit sign, $50; and overcrowding, $500.
Sallis said, if approved, his department is going to make sure all businesses understand the new codes and fines before heading out with a ticket pad.
“Our main concern is that people are safe,” Sallis said. “We’re not going to just go out and start fining people the minute this passes. We are going to have a lot of educating going on with this. We’re going to talk to businesses about the fines and give them a chance to correct any issues after explaining the process.”
For example, Sallis said if the designated fire inspector discovers a downtown bar is overcrowded, the inspector will speak to the owner before issuing a ticket.
“We’re going to go in, tell them here is what we are doing; here is the process. If we catch you again, you’ll be fined,” Sallis said. “We’re not going to just start hammering people with tickets.”
Some infractions are so serious, Sallis said, that repeat offenders will be dealt with harshly under the proposed new system.
Any combination of three or more violations considered serious life safety hazards by the International Fire Code, which the city has adopted, within a 12-month period will resort in a $1,000 fine and possible imprisonment of up to six months. Those include: disabled fire alarm, fire protection system or removal and/or tampering with equipment; overcrowding; locked exit door; fire exit or aisle blocked; fire or exit door inoperative; and blocked means of egress.
“We had to strengthen our major life safety issues and codes,” Sallis said.
The Board of Aldermen is expected to vote on the ordinance amendment during its March 18 meeting. If approved, the new fine structure will go into effect 30 days following the meeting.