NewBlaine fire marshall says prevention is best

Published on Thu, Jul 12, 2007 by JackKintner

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New Blaine fire marshall says prevention is best

By Jack Kintner

The city of Blaine and North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS) have announced the appointment of fire lieutenant Jim Bleecker to become the new Blaine fire marshall.

Bleecker, one of a six candidates for the position from as far away as Montana, has been a NWFRS firefighter for eight years.

The position, jointly funded by the city and NWFRS, combines the inspection, review and code enforcement role of the city fire marshal within Blaine and a wider educational and training area. His jurisdiction will be focused on fire prevention in the entire 140-square-mile area that NWFRS serves. The position also carries the rank of division chief.

One immediate benefit to Blaine in having hired a permanent fire marshal is an improvement in the city’s rating with the insurance industry’s Insurance Services Office (ISO), which provides the basis for setting fire insurance rates.

“That alone will save money for the city and everyone who lives or works in it,” Bleecker said. His office is in the Odell Street station in Blaine.

Fields said that in directing the NWFRS fire prevention division, Bleecker will also conduct fire inspections, review building and construction plans, and enforce fire code compliance to federal, state and local standards.

He will also conduct fire prevention training for all NSFRS personnel, run public education programs and coordinate arson investigations which sometimes involve bringing in outside specialists.

Within NWFRS he will participate in long and short-range planning as well as supervise his division’s budget and assigned personnel.
After three weeks on the job Bleecker said that beyond the heavy workload he’s been impressed with the sheer volume of projects needing review within Blaine.

“You see this?” he said, pointing at a four-foot long cardboard box of various plans with his foot, “well, there’s three more just like it in my truck. There’s a lot going on, believe me.”

He is responsible for city fire code enforcement, something that covers everything from illegal burning to overcrowded buildings.
“Going over a building’s posted capacity is unavoidable sometimes, such as in the high school gym at graduation, but is allowed to a degree as long as fire department personnel are there to keep an eye on things, keep the aisles clear and so on, he said.

“Without the fire department, if an over-crowded building burns then someone’s going to jail.”

Bleecker will be expected to outline how various fire prevention and suppression programs, construction design and road access affected the outcome following what are referred to as “significant, large-scale incidents.”

“I tried to illustrate this during my interview for the position by quoting a firefighter who said, after a large-scale fire, that he was glad at being able to save half of a $5 million building,” Bleeker said.

“But I’d rather try to save the owner the cost of a $2.5 million repair with good prevention techniques in the first place.”