Study: West Hartford needs more fire inspectors

A fire engine leaves for a call from West Hartford Fire Station No. 1 in West Hartford, Conn., on Thursday Jan. 7, 2020.

WEST HARTFORD — Officials want to add two inspectors to the fire marshal’s office out of concerns there aren’t enough staff to complete the mandated inspections, as well as the other tasks required by the state and town.

The two positions were recommended by both an outside study completed by Fitch and an internal review.

“Based upon that evaluation, Fitch opined that the division needed to complete 1,881 inspections each year to meet the statutory mandates and that the current staffing level was not adequate to meet those mandates,” said Michael Sinsigalli, the town’s fire marshal and the West Hartford Fire Department’s assistant chief.

He added this doesn’t take other tasks like going to court, training and attending other meetings, into consideration. The office also receives an average of 550 plans for review, an average of 174 construction inspections and 37 code complaints each year.

Once that’s factored in, about 2.4 positions are needed, Sinsigalli said.

The department is currently made up of Sinsigalli, a deputy fire marshal and an inspector, all of whom work full time. They’re supported by a part-time staff assistant and five company officers who work overtime for inspections.

“Since the Fitch study, we have made some progress,” Sinsigalli said.

The deputy marshal was added in October 2019 and the company officer structure was updated in September 2020, though there are still some challenges due to overtime. The office also now accepts photos for evidence that minor violations have been addressed, replacing the need for another on-site inspection. Officials additionally use tablets in the field to cut down on paperwork time.

Sinsigalli said the positions are not only to meet mandates and minimize the town’s liability, but to protect those who “live, work and play” in West Hartford.

“Consider losing a block in our town center and the impact that that would have to the center, to the community and to the vitality of the area,” he said. “Statistics show that more than 50 percent of businesses closed by fire never return. Regular fire inspection helps protect commercial districts by identifying and correcting unsafe conditions before they become an issue.”

Town Manager Matt Hart said he will work with Fire Chief Greg Priest to work out a plan to phase in the new positions, most likely spread out over a few years. He said it could begin as early as the next budget cycle.

He said he expects to come back to the public safety committee and then the full town council later this fall with a plan.

“The members of this division at present are working really well, working really hard and doing a lot of good things for us,” Hart said. “But there are certainly more things we would like to do working within the community, especially completing those regular inspections.”

Current contracts with the bargaining units don’t allow the town to pick up part-time inspectors, but Hart said they could revisit that as they begin negotiations on the new agreements with the current ones set to expire.

“It is an opportune time to have that conversation,” Hart said.

Town Councilor Leon Davidoff supported the idea to add more positions.

“It clearly demonstrates that to be at full speed, to address everything we need to address, additional staffing is necessary,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group