Half of Cleveland commercial buildings not in compliance with fire protection system maintenance

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 8:13 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -How safe are you from a fire if one breaks out at a Cleveland office building?

19 Investigates found about half of commercial buildings in the city are not up to fire code, at least when it comes to maintaining critical fire protection.

Fire alarms, sprinklers and fire doors can save lives.

But they’re no good if they are not maintained.

They need to be inspected routinely to make sure they’re working properly.

Cleveland Fire Department officials said the problem is business owners aren’t getting these systems checked often enough.

And fire inspectors are having a hard time keeping track of thousands of commercial properties across the city.

At a public safety meeting last week, officials estimated about half of commercial buildings in Cleveland do not properly maintain their fire protection systems as required by law.

“We project we’re at about 50% compliance,” said Battalion Chief Gregory Lightcap.

Lightcap said the fire department does not have a database to track this.

They want to hire an outside company to build one and notify businesses when maintenance is due.

Lightcap said many cities using services like this have gone to more than 90% compliance in a couple of years.

“So we would have a dashboard where we see these issues in red are where we need to direct our energy at in doing code enforcement, because the non-official stuff has not worked up until that point,” Lightcap told city council members at the safety committee meeting.

Alarmed by what we uncovered, we went to Mike Polensek, chair of the Public Safety Committee, for his take on this.

“There’s a reason why we have a code, a basic fire, and protection code. It’s for protection,” Polsensek said.

“As a citizen walking into any building, is that a concern knowing they may not be up to date?” Investigator Sara Goldenberg asked.

“Of course it is, because there’s a code, a city code. And that’s been the problem, is it has not been enforced over the years. And now they’re telling us at the table that they don’t have the manpower, the sheer manpower to inspect all of these buildings,” Polensek said.

Polensek said unfortunately he is not surprised by these numbers.

He wants to see the city and building owners step up to address the problem—quickly.

“Why hasn’t there been enforcement, why hasn’t anyone been prosecuted?” he said.

“And cited, and put in housing court if they refuse to make the repairs? None of us can understand why this has broken down as bad as it has,” Polensek said.

Fire officials said these changes would better educate business owners on fire code safety, instead of inspectors just issuing violation notices.

City council is waiting to see the proposed legislation from the fire department.

Polensek said it will be discussed in public meetings.

We learned there are between 20 and 25 fire inspectors total in the city.

We reached out to Cleveland Fire Department for an interview on this, but they declined.

They also did not give us the cost of the fine businesses face when they fail to maintain their fire protections systems.

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