Sebastian, County at odds over fire-marshal inspections


INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The City of Sebastian, similar to the City of Fellsmere several years ago, has hired its own fire marshal to carry out building inspections in order to bypass the Indian River County Fire Marshall.

Sebastian passed the ordinance at the March 14 meeting and County Attorney Dylan Reingold sought direction from the county commission on the matter at the April 3 meeting.

Commissioner Susan Adams, a resident and former mayor of Fellsmere, said the county “was put on notice” years ago that “there was a problem with the system” when Fellsmere hired its fire marshal and has failed to fix it.

“It’s no use be adversarial,” she said, suggesting the county meet with them to discuss the issues.

Chairperson Peter O’Bryan described a recent complaint two Sebastian City Council members had with the Best Western remodel. The fire marshal was told it was just a carpet replacement, which required no inspection, but then found “they were knocking holes in walls, which did require a fire inspection. They found the fire retardant was the wrong material,” and forced them to redo it.

“95 percent of the time, it’s not our fault,” O’Bryan said, claiming, “Locals want a looser interpretation of the code.”

County Commissioner Bob Solari agreed. “What if we hadn’t inspected the hotel? In the follow-up inspection, what would they have to inspect? Then we send our firefighters into danger.”

Commissioner Tim Zorc, Joseph Flescher, Solari and O’Bryan agreed that the unified emergency services district, which was approved among the county and surrounding municipalities around 2008,should be upheld, which includes one fire marshal overseeing building inspections to limit costs and liability.

Building inspections produce a revenue stream, Zorc said. “While the fee generating part goes to the municipality, the nuisance part, the yearly inspections, we still have to do that for them.”

County Administrator Jason Brown said the county’s understanding of the unified emergency services district was different. “Are we all sharing the bill or not?”

All but Adams agreed Sebastian should “take all or nothing,” that is pay for all its emergency services or let the county do it, as laid out in the agreement, with Solari and O’Bryan stating they regretted letting Fellsmere stray.

Adams said it was “disingenuous” of the county to now claim all or nothing. When Fellsmere insisted on a Fire Marshal, she said the county insisted it retain responsibility for festivals and other duties.

An email from Sebastian Attorney James Stokes on April 2 to County Attorney Reingold makes a similar point. “I hope you know that the County—having allowed Fellsmere to move forward with their program, even if on a smaller scale than our proposal—creates the ‘crack in the wall’ that undermines your position that [state law] 633.118 somehow prohibits our action. If this statute did create such a prohibition, Fellsmere would not be allowed to have even its limited program. You must understand that we will rely on this fact in any future legal proceeding—and we will prevail.”

The county commission agreed to send a letter asking Sebastian to work with its new fire chief and fire marshal and to reconsider its position. But if that is unpalatable, the letter will also state Sebastian must take over all or nothing of its emergency services, fully exiting the emergency services district if it chooses the former.

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