County responds to Fellsmere’s push on fire inspections

By Debbie Carson, Online Editor

FELLSMERE – Indian River County Emergency Services Director John King will meet with City of Fellsmere leaders this week to address the city’s proposed plan to take over performing fire inspections from the county.

King’s basic concern regarding the issue boils down to the potential of duplicating services, he said early Monday morning.

“I don’t think my responsibilities go away,” King said, explaining that it is his task to perform fire inspections for all of Indian River County and four cities, including Fellsmere.

City Manager Jason Nunemaker has recommended that the city establish its own “fire marshal” for the purposes of performing fire inspections within the city.

“Frankly, I got frustrated,” said Nunemaker, explaining why he is pushing the city to consider the change.

He added that his problem with leaving fire inspections up to the county is that he cannot tell business owners how long it would be before receiving their certificates of occupancy. The city can tell the owners that they have satisfied the city’s requirements but that they are waiting for the fire inspection to be done – and Nunemaker does not know how long that might be.

“I don’t like that answer,” he said.

King said that he does not believe that Fellsmere would set a precedent for the other municipalities, including Vero Beach and Sebastian, should the city decide to create its own fire marshal because those “services are already being provided.”

But when asked why Fellsmere thinks it might be able to better handle fire inspections than the county, King replied, “I can’t answer that question,” adding that he thinks the approval of a fire marshal in Fellsmere could be a disservice to the city’s residents.

The issue was brought up at the Fellsmere City Council meeting last week and seemed to receive support from at least one city councilmember, Sara Savage.

Councilwoman Savage voiced her own frustration over leaving fire inspections up to the county.

“It takes too long,” she said, adding that she hears numerous complaints over the issue.

“I think there’s more to that story,” King told later when asked about the councilwoman and city manager’s concern of how long it takes for inspections to be done in Fellsmere. He refrained from elaborating on the point.

In her opinion, Savage said during the council meeting, the switch to in-house fire inspections could make the permitting process easier for businesses.

“We want to make ourselves more efficient,” she added.

King was at the council meeting and asked that the members not vote on the issue until he had time to review it and discuss it with Nunemaker and City Attorney Warren Dill. The three are expected to sit down this week to discuss Nunemaker’s plan to create a “fire marshal” for the city.

Nunemaker said during the council meeting and again afterward that he is not proposing the city create its own fire department or provide its own fire rescue service.

Instead, his plan would be to have a member of the city’s staff perform only fire inspections.

The city’s building official, Tom Forbes, is already licensed to perform fire inspections by the State of Florida, according to Nunemaker. Forbes would be the one to inspect buildings for being in compliance with fire codes prior to issuing the certificates of occupancy.

City Councilman Joel Tyson asked the council to hold off on voting on the issue until its next meeting to give King time to review the proposal and talk with Nunemaker and Dill.

“We don’t want to alienate them,” Tyson said of the county’s fire rescue department.

“This in no way takes away from the outstanding” emergency and fire rescue service the city receives from the county, Nunemaker said after the council meeting.

As for the concerns the county’s emergency services department might have regarding the city taking on fire inspections, Nunemaker said he does not see why there would be a problem.

“We’ll get it worked out,” he said. “We see it as positive all the way around.”

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