Fire inspections important for insurance coverage, safety reasons

Published on Wed, Aug 14, 2013 by Steve Guntli

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A fire department inspection of your small business may sound like a hassle, but it could save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Henry Hollander, division chief for the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue services, encouraged business owners to get an Engine Company Inspection Program (ECIP) inspection at the Whatcom Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Wednesday, August 7. 

“We aren’t the bad guys,” Hollander said. “We’re here to help you.”

The ECIP inspections, first implemented in Whatcom County in 2008, are intended to prevent fires and help the fire department develop a “pre-incident plan,” a rescue strategy built around a building’s specific layout, according to the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue service’s website. Additionally, ECIP inspections help determine a district’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, which impacts the insurance rates in a community. The city of Blaine’s ISO rating was lowered in late 2012, resulting in lower insurance rates.


While Hollander said that “99.9 percent” of all his customers have been very accommodating, some businesses have refused inspections, citing protection under the Fourth Amendment, which defends against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The fire department does have a legal right to conduct business inspections at any time. According to the International Fire Code, article 104.3, fire code officials have the right to conduct an inspection at any time if they have reasonable cause to believe that a building may be a fire hazard. While this manner of inspection may be legal, Hollander feels it works against his department’s customer service policies.

“By law, the fire department can get warrants, but that really works against our customer relations,” he said. “Technically, we could force it and go to court, but it gets really blown out of proportion and we don’t want that.”

Those who refuse an inspection can request a deferral or schedule a meeting with the department to discuss their options.

Fire departments across the United States charge business owners anywhere from $80 to $250 for ECIP inspections, but the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue provides this service for free, Hollander said.

Not only is it a smart choice to maintain the safety of your employees and business, but an inspection can also help you keep track of your valuables so insurance companies can replace them should the need arise. 

ECIP inspections take several safety precautions into account. Inspectors will check entrances and exits to ensure they’re free of blockage, confirm that electrical wiring is up to code, test fire alarms, advise on the best means of storing supplies, ensure that fire extinguishers are fully charged and confirm the sprinkler system is functioning.

Companies found in violation of any of the 73 criteria outlined on the ECIP checklist will have to make the necessary upgrades. Hollander said these changes usually do not need to be made immediately, and can sometimes be done over a number of years. 

“We’ll give them a list of little things and ask that they fix it in 30 days,” he said. “If it’s an issue, we’ll try to work out a plan. We’ll work with them on the balance over time.”

On average, ECIP inspections take about 30 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the size of the building. For more information, including an ECIP checklist, visit nwfrs.net.