INSPECTION PROGRAM FREQUENCY
Administrative Rule Adopted by Portland Fire & Rescue Pursuant to Rule-Making Authority
Link to Attachment #1: Pre-Inspection Notice & 8 Common Hazards (PDF Document, 72 kb)
A. This policy is established November 8, 2005.
B. Portland City Code (PCC) Title 31 directs the Fire Marshal to establish a program for the periodic inspection of all occupancies of commercial buildings for compliance with the fire regulations, and to adopt a policy regarding the frequency, priority and type of inspection of occupancies in commercial buildings subject to the availability of budgeted funds and staff.
C. This policy applies to all areas where Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) has authority.
1. Overview: The United States has one of the most severe fire problems of any industrialized nation. Its fire death rate is at least 20% higher than most European nations. In the latest reporting period, 1985 to 1994, fire deaths averaged over 5,000 annually. The estimated value of property destroyed in fires in 1994 was $8.2 billion, more than losses from all natural disasters combined—floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. Portland's experience mirrors national statistics which show that more than one quarter of businesses having a major fire do not successfully re-open, creating indirect economic damage to suppliers, employees and customers.
One factor contributing to our poor record is believed to be comparatively less emphasis on fire prevention than other industrialized nations. At the same time, national studies have found that fire frequency rates appear to be substantially lower in cities that inspect all or nearly all commercial buildings annually. In fact, rates of fires with at least $5,000 loss were more than twice as high for cities not inspecting most buildings annually.
In Portland, the Fire Marshal is empowered to inspect all occupied structures except one- and two unit residential dwellings for fire hazards. Limited resources, however, allowed inspection of fewer than 20% of these commercial structures annually. This resulted in many structures going 5 years or longer between inspections. Several fires also showed the need for more frequent inspections.
2. Enhanced Fire Prevention Program: In June of 1992, the Portland City Council adopted Resolution No. 35005, the City's Comprehensive Financial Management Policy, to enhance financial planning and internal financial management of the City. The thrust of the policy is to ensure that available resources are fairly allocated and to make the City of Portland accountable to its citizens for the use of public dollars. One of the policy's guidelines directs bureaus to take a close look at the full costs of service delivery and to charge a user fee when services benefit individuals rather than the general public. This guideline is intended to ensure flexibility in the use of general tax dollars for "public" service priorities. Fire Code enforcement provides both public and private benefits.
Early in 1997, the Portland Bureau of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services began exploring the steps required to implement cost recovery for Fire Code inspections. Research included similar programs in the state of Oregon and throughout the nation. Several such fee-for-service programs were found which had been successfully implemented. The Fire Bureau proceeded to put together the details of a program, hold meetings with a representative sampling of affected parties, refine the proposal, and include it in its FY 1998-2000 Requested Budget. Portland City Council approved that program.
1. Portland City Code (PCC) Title 31
2. PF&R General Order # 7, Company Fire Prevention Inspections
A. Frequency of Inspections: Inspections of commercial occupancies within PF&R's jurisdiction are targeted to be performed on a 2-year rotation. State mandated annual inspections are to be performed on an annual rotation (such as Institutions type inspections and Care Facilities, wherein an annual license requires the inspection). An occupancy becomes eligible for a fee-based Regular (R) or Special – Owner's Request (SO) inspection when the inspection is conducted not more than 90 days prior to the targeted inspection date. When a building is requested by the building owner and approved by the FMO to be in the Online Fire System Reporting program (OFSR) the occupancies become eligible for a fee based R or SO inspection when the inspection is conducted more than 365 days after the previous R or SO inspection.
A letter of intent to inspect (Attachment #1, Pre-Inspection Letter) will be sent to the responsible party mailing address at least 10 days prior to the inspection of the occupancy. If that letter is not "returned to sender" (Fire Marshals Office) within that time frame, the occupancy is considered to be available to be inspected as a "Regular" inspection. If the letter is returned to the FMO, it is the incumbent responsibility of the FMO to ascertain the correct contact information and resend the letter. Should the inspector arrive at the business location and discover that, in fact, no letter was received by the business owner, the option to inspect at that time may be afforded to the owner or responsible party to authorize the inspection, a "Special –Owner Request", without being assessed a fine for any of the categories of the "8 Common Hazards" should they be observed (Attachment # 1, Pre-Inspection Letter).
B. Intent of the Fee Structure: The intent of the fee structure is to simply and equitably recoup about half of the direct cost of providing the code inspection service. During the initial inspection, information collected as to precise times required to perform various classes of inspections will allow refinements to the schedule to more precisely equate fees to cost.
The fee schedule reflects the level of service provided, beginning with a base fee then adds charges reflecting time required for the on-site inspection and the complexity of the inspection.
C. Details of the Fee Schedule: The fee schedule begins with a base fee per occupancy. This acknowledges the fixed costs involved in maintaining the inspection system and the minimal time required to perform inspections regardless of the size or complexity of occupancy.
Then, for residential occupancies, there is an additional fee for the number of residential units. Apartments, hotels/motels, and dormitories each are assigned a different fee for the number of units to reflect the different level of effort needed for inspections. For example, inspectors do inspect inside vacant hotel rooms, while dormitory rooms and buildings are usually less complex for a given number of residents.
For non-residential occupancies, a fee is added for the amount of floor space. As with the fee for residential units, the fee does not increase as fast as the area increases. This is to acknowledge the economies of scale.
In some cases, inspections may require an abnormally long time to inspect. In such case, a fee as noted in the Fee Schedule found via the link on the Auditor's site at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=43028&a=128619 , applied in quarter hour increments, is assessed for inspection of residential structures requiring more than 2 hours and non-residential structures requiring more than 4 hours.
Additionally, there are fees for selected special hazards. These are assembly (A) occupancies and hazardous storage/process (H) occupancies. Finally, there is a quantity discount allowed for multiple occupancies at one location when occupied by a single business.
A 50% discount is applied to the adjusted base inspection fee described above for occupancies enrolled in the OSFR program where the last R or SO inspection is greater than 365 days (12 months) and less than 640 days (21 months).
D. Fees for Violations (See link to Fee Schedule noted above): While the "Enhanced Fire Prevention" (now referred to as "Code Enforcement") program is based on willing compliance and incentives, public input encouraged the Fire Marshal to impose significant fees in those few cases where incentives and education do not work. Fees for violations of the Fire Code found during the initial on-site inspection will result in a fee per violation class (not individual occurrence), but only for those violations to which the occupant has been alerted in a pre-inspection notice letter. If all violations are corrected at the time of the first reinspection, there is no further fee. If not, an additional fee is charged for each uncorrected violation class and a reinspection fee is assessed. If uncorrected violations remain at the second reinspection, an increased reinspection fee is assessed along with another fee per uncorrected violation class. If violations remain at the third and subsequent reinspections, the business owner or occupant (responsible party) will be assessed another increased reinspection fee along with another fee per violation class and the case will be referred to the Code Hearings Officer.
E. Miscellaneous Fees: A miscellaneous category of fees includes a fee for responding to requests for occupancy load signs. This fee, too, is based upon estimates of the costs of providing these services.
F. Appeals: Written details of the procedure for appealing any action of this program that the business owner feels adversely affects them, will be included with the inspection report at time of mailing.
Link to Attachment #1: Pre-Inspection Notice & 8 Common Hazards (PDF Document, 72 kb)
Reference Noted: Fee Schedule
Policy originally established by Portland Fire & Rescue November 8, 2005.
Amended rule adopted by Chief of Portland Fire & Rescue and filed for inclusion in PPD September 7, 2010.