Norwalk adds a fire inspector to ‘put a dent’ in overflowing demand

The Berkeley on West Avenue, part of the Waypointe complex. Inspecting the complex “could take weeks,” Fire Marshall Broderick Sawyer said.
(Harold F. Cobin)

NORWALK, Conn. – With the Fire Marshal’s office reporting it’s as much as four years behind in code inspections, the Fire Commission on Tuesday approved hiring a fifth full-time fire inspector.

The Commission also agreed that two part-time inspectors the city has employed on a per diem basis since November should continue until next December.

Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer expressed gratitude for the added help, but said afterwards that, with the increasing demands on his office, he could use at least 10 inspectors.

Sawyer noted that approximately 1,500 additional apartment units are planned for construction in the city in the next three to four years, which would double the number of multi-family dwellings in Norwalk.

The Fire Commissioners had been evaluating the backlog of inspections for several months, leading to its decision to add an inspector.

During the Commission’s discussion, Fire Chief Gino Gatto mentioned that Norwalk paid a settlement toward a lawsuit filed after an October 2014 fire at 45 Wall St. Gatto said the plaintiff alleged the city was aware of numerous building, fire and health code violations there that it allowed to go uncorrected.

Sawyer said state statutes require annual inspections of bars and restaurants, movie theaters, facilities providing residential boarding and care, and residences for three or more families, and said the city has roughly 1,500 multi-family occupancies.

In addition, he said, there are structures requiring inspections every two, three or four years.

In all, Gatto said, the city is obligated to perform about 2,000 annual inspections.

A complex such as the Waypointe apartments on West Avenue “could take weeks,” he said.

Adding inspectors “would help us to put a dent in the inspections that we have to do,” Gatto said. “It’s not going to cure everything. But it definitely would probably in a court of law at least say that we’re trying to do our part.”

The decision to appoint an additional inspector was approved by Mayor Harry Rilling, who is also a Fire Commissioner, and Commissioner Oscar Destruge.  The decision required their consent since the position is being filled by a firefighter, which has a lower salary than inspector.

Rilling used Tuesday’s meeting to defend the city’s inspection process, saying, “There’s always a lot of back and forth about Norwalk not inspecting their properties. You inspect properties, sometimes with the Health Department when you find a violation that the Health Department needs to follow up on, or Code Enforcement, Planning and Zoning, or Bill Ireland’s (Building Department) office. You coordinate and you have that follow up.

“For anybody to say that the City of Norwalk does not inspect properties and take enforcement action is totally misleading.”

“Right. They’re uninformed,” Gatto concurred.

Expanding afterwards on Rilling’s remarks, Sawyer said, “If we find in our inspections an illegal basement (apartment) or more units than should be in the property, we cite them from the fire code side and contact zoning, health, building, any other department to do their end of it. And we actually go back out with them when they’re ready to do the inspection.”

The tricky part, he said, is one- and two-family dwellings, because the Fire Marshall’s office has limited jurisdiction. In those cases, he said, the Health Department leads seeking corrections at an occupancy because it has jurisdiction.

“So it all works together and it’s pretty efficient,” Sawyer said. “We get into a lot of places that you’re not going to hear about. We just get it done.”

Sawyer informed the Commissioners that two of his inspectors were currently only certified to perform code inspections, but were beginning training Wednesday to conduct fire investigations.

Sawyer told the Commissioners that during January, his office sent out 197 letters advising property owners that their properties was due for inspection, and conducted 155 inspections, 28 plan reviews and 31 fire investigations.


jlightfield February 22, 2018 at 7:40 am

How is it that Norwalk fails to to fund additional fire inspectors as the workload increases by simply having tying a fire inspection fee to building permits by size. A four year backlog because of Waypointe? Sheesh.

Diane Lauricella February 22, 2018 at 11:25 am

Was just going to state the same about fire inspection fee reform, but adding:

Increasing Pro-rated pertinent Zoning Applications fees to help fund additional qualified zoning enforcement inspectors

Increasing pertinent user Building Application fees by size to fund similar qualified inspectors to reduce backlog of Blight and building code violations.

Finding better funding mechanism to fund additional Health Department environmental and code violation inspectors.

Rick February 22, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Its odd how we find out about illegal apartments we ask the mail man how many names does he deliver to, one house I asked about on the street a single family he said 7 names, there are eight cars, maybe the city needs someone who excels in math and knows how to work the post office.

We gave up calling city hall, mothers who walk strollers by one house has to walk in traffic by a house where cars fill the driveway lawn and sidewalk and has for two months, yet the average owner who parks on the sidewalk gets a ticket in front of his or hers legal home. This house has seen [plenty of city hall interaction yet a blind eye goes to the Non Profit who owns the house. One van sticking out into the street with ladders sitting on a lawn blocking the sidewalk breaking the law for three weeks without moving seems to be in defiance of any law the city has.

What makes this whole situation worse is the sidewalks , Quintard ave was done over a couple years ago sidewalks were ignored, then last year came the big makeover sidewalks were done near shorefront park down to the boat club and lincoln ave and B yet the sidewalks on quintard ave are so bad walking the street is safer near water st The house we are all complaining about has no sidewalk left and usually is the owners responsibility but the city has clearly given a princess pass for this non profit ,

Our neighborhood watch has spoken to the Mayor Kleppin and the police dept about the house, seems no one has made a real effort to look into anything like the fire dept they say we are overwhelmed understaffed. by years is unacceptable . Now the property owners know this now its play the game with the city while we talk tweaking public safety .

The next time Norwalk has another meeting in South Norwalk no reason the mayor cant send his depts in for some answers, the counselors seemed fine with attending in fact it was productive, we heard about the shelter and many other things that suggested growth was met with open arms and sensible planning by the private sector.

“For anybody to say that the City of Norwalk does not inspect properties and take enforcement action is totally misleading.”
“Right. They’re uninformed,” Gatto concurred.

I never heard that said , in fact what I have heard is silence on a number of properties that need explaining. maybe its time to revisit how Norwalk is dealing with growth.

One inspector is all the dept needs? Usually when a dept head has the floor a laundry list of things is usually brought to the table.Norwalk has money we have a new mall that will need possibly firefighters for events its a lifestyle mall isn’t it? Shopping malls have turned the page in order to survive they have new agendas that draw large crowds, Norwalk is ready right?

The Ct Mirror just did a great article on places like King Industries in Ct, and where we will have a rail yard close by and a mall included wonder if the article in the Mirror has prompted any new safety concerns by our Norwalk officials.

Transparency was lifted on inspectors , how much are they bringing back into the city with fees and if the city is making money on inspections why not more?

That brings it back full circle is the inspections considered a money maker or a safety issue?

plaintiff alleged the city was aware of numerous building, fire and health code violations there that it allowed to go uncorrected.

This sounded like the city knew it was guilty but there must of been other facts that defended the city, was it not having enough inspectors back then?

With what just transpired at Waypoint where staircases were turned into waterfalls it sounds like the fire depot was busy last month well after it was built.

We understand there are many inspectors involved here, we found the past there was little to no interaction on Firetree its was for the most part no one talking to each other when permits were filed and then passed. When SNEW installed a large service no one asked anyone about the sewage or other infrastructure facts , it was simply done without any interaction within city hall.

Broderick I. Sawyer February 23, 2018 at 11:47 am

I implore anyone with any questions or concerns to contact me directly, it appears we have misinformation and misconceptions in regard to how the Fire Marshal’s Office operates. For instance, we’re not backlogged four years because of Waypointe.
As Fire Marshal my goals for the FMO include transparency (when appropriate)and accessibility. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to guess as to what we’re doing.
So please don’t speculate contact me directly, you can be assured I will get back to you. You can also go to norwalkct.org to look at the fire prevention division (under city departments click Fire Department) I’m looking forward to speaking with you, 203-854-0248 or [email protected], thank you.

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