Kennewick council to discuss expanding fire safety inspection program Tuesday

The Kennewick Fire Department is looking at expanding its fire safety inspection program in the next few years.

Kennewick residents and businesses may have to pay higher fire insurance premiums if the city fails to take action, officials said.

The city council will talk about the issue at its 6:30 p.m. workshop meeting today at city hall.

The program has not kept pace with population growth, said fire marshal Mark Yaden. Kennewick employs two fire inspectors -- the same number as in 1970, when the population was about 15,000. About 76,400 people live in the city now.

They can only inspect about 13 percent of Kennewick's 2,507 businesses each year, Yaden said. Inspections can take less than an hour or up to a couple of days.

"We've outgrown the existing resources," he said.

The fire department prioritizes its annual inspections, focusing on hospitals, schools, churches, the Columbia Center mall, the Toyota Center, the Three Rivers Convention Center and anyplace where large numbers of people assemble, Yaden said.

The number of inspections have fallen to the point that the city is likely to be hurt when the Washington Surveying & Rating Bureau performs its scheduled 2015 audit, Yaden said.

The bureau, a a nonprofit risk management group, updates its fire service and prevention ratings every 15 years, Yaden said. The rating is one of the criteria insurance companies use when calculating premiums. Individual fire insurance premiums might increase 3 percent to 10 percent, varying by insurance provider.

The fire department's goal is to inspect 100 percent of existing businesses each year, or be on track to meet that goal, by 2015, Yaden said.

It's something businesses call and ask for because many insurance companies require it, he said. And it could help the city reduce the number of false alarms, which number more than 300 a year.

Hiring trained and certified fire inspectors will require new revenue sources. The city is looking at two different options -- one to pay for new construction, the other for inspections of existing businesses.

Fire code permits are already issued for new construction, Yaden said. But so far, those permits have been free, even though they require a plan review and field inspections.

The city council authorized a fee for fire code permits in 2010, but didn't set the structure. The current proposal includes a $150 plan review fee for all fire detection, fire suppression and commercial cooking systems, according to city documents. An additional fee of $1.25 per device would be charged for fire detection systems and $1.50 per device for fire sprinkler systems.

The fee structure for fire code permits does not need a council vote to go into effect.

There is no specific proposal at this time for the fire inspection fee that existing businesses will pay, Yaden said. Fire officials want to involve the business community and other groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, in the discussions.