Firefighters Union slams fire code switch

Friday, July 31, 2009 at 3:03am

Metro Council is on the verge of passing a new fire code, which the local firefighters union said will make the public and Metro firefighters less safe.

Already Council has passed on two readings a bill to switch Metro to the International Fire Code from the current National Fire Protection Association Code. The bill will be on third and final reading at the Aug. 6 Council meeting.

With its passage nearly certain, acting International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Union local 140 president Gary Moore blasted the code as less safe than what is already in place.

“I think it puts the firefighters and the public safety in jeopardy and I have a real hard time understanding how we can spend $70,000 to do a new code when the old code was working just fine,” said Moore, who is also a state House representative from Davidson County. “The existing code had been working well.”

Moore said the union’s biggest problem with the International Fire Code was that it did not make follow-up inspections by the Fire Marshal mandatory.

“What they’re saying is you can do follow-up inspections, but there are no guidelines what to look for when you do,” Moore said.

The state has already adopted the International Fire Code. The state law allows local governments to institute their own fire code, as long as it is at least as stringent as the International Fire Code. The switch to the new code has the support of an array of key figures including Fire Chief Steve Halford, Fire Marshal Danny Hunt, Metro Water, Metro Codes and Mayor Karl Dean’s office.

It will cost Metro approximately $70,000 to switch to the new code, but the Fire Department allocated those funds in its budget for the next fiscal year.

The department received a $2 million reduction in its budget, but the cut did not lead to the loss of any line personnel.

Still District 35 Councilman Bo Mitchell said it was wrong to spend department funds on switching to a new code in a year when some received salary rollbacks. According to Metro Human Resources, four Fire Marshal managers were rolled back to inspectors, but there were no other department layoffs.

“We have 1,200 people of the Nashville Fire Department, and as you and I are running out, they’re running in,” Mitchell said. “And they categorically have said ‘We oppose this.’

It is going to make Nashvillians less safe and endanger firefighters. Where’s this money mysteriously coming from since we just laid off people?”

During an explosive exchange at the July 21 Council meeting, District 4 Councilman Michael Craddock took issue with Mitchell’s insinuation that any Council member who supports switching to the new code is anti-firefighter.

District 30 Councilman Jim Hodge and District 10 Councilman Rip Ryman, among others, have worked laboriously on the switch since last year.

In an amendment to the bill on second reading, Ryman added oversight so that the department reports back to the Council on how the switch is progressing so that potential problems can be identified.

“Since this is a compromise on a consensus, nobody is totally satisfied with the result,” Hodge said.

One compromise added to the bill pertained to music venues. All venues with a capacity of at least 200 people must add sprinkler systems — a cost some club owners said was prohibitive to their operation. A new amendment allows the clubs to wait until 2012 to comply with the requirement.