JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The fire at the warehouse in Oakland, Calif. is a tragedy that has drawn attention nationwide.
Jonesboro Fire Marshal Jason Wills said that when someone wants to convert a building's use to something else, they need to take the proper steps.
"In this particular example in Oakland," Wills said. "It's my understanding it was a warehouse that was converted. Anytime someone wants to change the occupancy of a building, they're supposed to come through the city with the building department, the fire department, planning. Everyone would have an opportunity to look at that and advise on possibly getting an architect or engineers involved to make the necessary changes to change the occupancy."
Wills said there are certain things that must be in place for a building to be safe.
"There are features that have to be in place in a building to be code compliant," Wills said. "A lot of times public, they perceive that it's a burden for the expense for many of these things. And then for our officers who go out and inspect within the city of Jonesboro, we look for these code deficiencies for a reason. It's for public safety. It's not always well received when we have to go out and do code enforcement or exercise code enforcement on new construction."
Wills said those who work at the Fire Marshal's office strive to keep the public safe.
"The Fire Marshal's office and the Jonesboro Fire Department inspect all public buildings," Wills said. "We have a check list that our people go by and use so that when we go out to do an inspection there's kind of a punch list that we look at. For example, some of the most important features are exits. Can you get to an exit? Is there a clear path to an exit? Is the distance that you have to travel to get there correct? Because you don't need to travel an extreme distance before you can reach an exit. Those are all things that we look for. And that is just one example of what is on that check list. And that's what we're looking at when we go out."
Wills said they've run across buildings in Jonesboro that weren't up to compliance standards.
"Unfortunately here in Jonesboro," Wills said. "There's been a few occupancies where they didn't come through the city and they were very much out of code compliance. It then left us no choice but to shut that building down. Pull their power and shut them down. We don't like doing that. But it's in the effort to keep us from having a tragedy and a potential for a large loss of life fire."
Wills said they look at everything.
"The Fire Marshal's Office tries our best to ensure safety on many different levels," Wills said. "With new construction we have to look at all the new plans. Whether it be the architectural plans, the engineering plans, sprinkler system plans and fire alarm plans. We look at all of this from a life safety stand point to make sure that new construction is built correctly."
Wills said many don't understand what all it takes to make a building safe.
"There are so many misconceptions with safety," Wills said. "And with us, it's something that we deal with every day that we're aware of. But a lot of people don't realize just what it takes to go into making buildings safe from a code stand point. It's not there as punishment. It's there to ensure that we don't have a tragic event where we don't have a loss of life."
Wills said he's discovered many fatal fires in the Jonesboro area didn't have smoke alarms.
"That's one single device in a single-family home," Wills said. "Most of the fatalities that we work are usually attributed to someone asleep and they don't have a working smoke alarm. Smoke alarms save lives."
The city provides smoke alarms free of charge.
If you have any questions about fire safety or about getting an inspection, contact the Jonesboro Fire Department.
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