NORWALK, Conn. — Annual fire safety inspections of buildings, factories, and multi-family homes would be mandatory under changes to the local ordinance proposed by Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer and Fire Chief Gino Gatto and advanced by the Common Council Ordinance Committee.
Sawyer brought a melted red extension cord to Tuesday night’s meeting, to demonstrate how an inspection prevented a fire. The cord was discovered in a foreclosed storefront, an illegal home to tenants paying $1,000 a month. Found by chance, the cord had been stretched from another shop to provide electricity.
Overcrowding fuels the problem in Norwalk, Sawyer said, with two-family homes often housing up to five families. He said he routinely carries smoke alarms with him in his car to install on the spot when he finds potential hazards.
In addition to the melted cord, Sawyer brought photos of other fire hazards discovered during safety inspections. Last year Norwalk’s eight full-time and two part-time inspectors uncovered 376 general fire hazard violations.
The proposed ordinance, advanced by unanimous vote to a public hearing in June, would mirror and streamline the state statute allowing fire officials to inspect buildings, factories, and dwellings housing three or more families. Along with targeting noncompliant landlords, Gatto said, officials hope the new approach will short-circuit lengthy legal complaints.
“The new ordinance will enhance the Fire Marshal’s access when illegal apartments or a hoarding situation is found in a one or two family occupancy,” Sawyer said in a Thursday email.
He also explained that what he meant by “overcrowded two-family homes” was “there are homes where family members live together, not just two family homes, what I mean by that is a family may own a home where they have several family members residing together. It could be considered overcrowded but not necessarily illegal. If we find that egress is compromised in these situations that is what we look to keep clear in the event of a fire with these additional statutes.”
There are “approximately 10-15 complaints a year in regard to illegal apartments/overcrowding,” Sawyer wrote. “Is that a lot of complaints? Not necessarily. Generally we respond with the Health department on these complaints, many anonymous, and many times find the complaint was frivolous. Many times due to someone from the large family taking up too many parking spaces on the street, making too much noise or some other reason. No matter what we will still respond to the complaint.”
In other action on Tuesday, the Ordinance Committee approved a proposal by the Board of Ethics to allow the dismissal of complaints against public officials and city employees that are made public prior to a finding of probable cause.
The vote followed a public hearing that was unattended.