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BACKLOG: Tulsa Fire Marshal warns building inspections are 8-months behind

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Posted at 6:47 PM, May 22, 2024

TULSA, Okla. — Fire marshals warn the city is dangerously behind on verifying fire alarms, sprinklers, and escape systems in local buildings like businesses and churches.

You can't run a business in Tulsa let alone open a building without being up to fire code. The fire department has to come do its checks to verify.

However, TFD's fire marshal team told Tulsa City Council's Urban & Economic Development Committee in its May 22 meeting there's simply not enough of them to go around currently.

"We're not getting (the reviews) out fast enough, which stifles economic development," District Chief Chuck French said. "That means businesses can't open. Owners are upset. The development community gets mad at us."

Chief French is raising the alarm and asking the city council for help in tackling a backlog going back eight months, or 121 businesses, he said.

"Our goal is… to get those people that are licensed contractors permitted along with the HVAC, the plumbing, the electrical, the mechanical folks so that everybody starts on the same line," French said.

Councilor Phil Lakin said he agrees keeping the current clause could put businesses and the public at risk. He said he's open to TFD's suggestion of hiring private companies to handle most or all fire system checks.

"Developers and contractors do not want their money to be wasted or for there to be significant delays," Lakin said. "So this may be a solution, but it may be a solution after necessary input is received."

"You guys need more staff. You probably need twice as many staff, which is probably not feasible in one year, but we need to make a plan to staff you up," Councilor Crista Patrick said in the meeting with the marshals.

Patrick favors a higher number of department inspectors to keep up its high-quality work, but District 7's Lori Decter Wright said a decision would have to be made soon regardless.

"Public health, safety, and welfare is our charge," Decter Wright said. "And the fire marshals are trying to do what's required by law. And (we need to) make sure we find that balance."

Councilor Lakin added city leadership will meet with the fire department in the coming weeks and then decide whether to amend the mayor's proposed city budget to allow for the third-party switch. He said it would cost between $60 and $90,000.

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