12:29 pm
Wed May 1, 2013

Savings Behind Eliminating Winston-Salem's Fire Inspectors Questioned

Winston-Salem Professional Fire Fighters say the city only has three dedicated fire inspectors. City Council members are proposing to cut these positions to save the city money.
Credit WS Professional Fire Fighters / WS Professional Fire Fighters

As the city of Winston-Salem attempts to reduce expenses, some believe reducing the number of fire inspectors is short sighted.

Monday night April 29, Winston-Salem city council members agreed to eliminate three fire-inspector positions. This is one of many recommendations proposed by an appointed Citizens' Organization Efficiency Review Committee. Winston-Salem’s Fire Prevention Department currently has 8 staffers, five of whom are assistant fire marshals and fire investigators. The three positions that may be eliminated are exclusively fire inspectors.

According to West Ward Councilman Robert Clark, cutting three fire inspectors will save the city $135,000-$150,000 annually. And he says fire fighters can bridge the gap. “The firemen are at the firehouse and if there is no alarm, it’s a way they can be productive during the day,” says Councilman Clark. “And they can take their truck with them in case they do get a call. They get about six miles to the gallon, not the best gas mileage in the world but at the same time you’ve got labor who if they were not doing that would be sitting back at the fire station and we’d have to hire more fire inspectors. So you spend a little more on gas but we can be more productive on man power.”

 But David Pollard says relying on fire fighters this way is inefficient. He is president of the Winston-Salem Professional Firefighters. Pollard argues in the long run, this approach will cost the city more money than it saves.  “The guys on the fire truck can do fire inspections but their focus is putting out fires, answering medical calls, doing rescues,” says Pollard. “They may get interrupted four, five, six times and have to leave an inspection. And if it’s a fire, they may not make it back that shift. It could be two days before they’re able to come back and pick up where they left off on that inspection.”  Pollard hopes to save the three fire inspector jobs by urging the city council to approve doing some building inspections every two or three years. This would be in line with current North Carolina state standards.
Other budget changing recommendations include eliminating 10 police officer jobs from a group of 25 that had been funded by a federal grant. Increasing downtown parking fines to $15 and a 10% increase in inspection fees and fees for cemetery plots. Overall, the council agreed on about $1.4 million in savings for the city of Winston-Salem. City Manager Lee Garrity will add these and other recommendations into the city’s 2013-2014 budget. In the next few weeks, he’ll then present it for a separate vote.