Why didn’t I get a Christmas card this year?

I remember several years ago discussing by phone some of the deficiencies I was viewing in the field with Rusty Anderson, a recently retired Senior Inspector with the County of San Diego. He responded that I should not expect any Christmas cards this year. I knew Rusty was expressing “inspector humor”; however, it rang true and made me think. Sometimes inspectors are not fully appreciated and/or recognized for our efforts. Some view us as the bearers of bad news; or, more often, see us as the epitome of intolerance, rigidness, and inflexibility. The way I see it, however, is that we’re the last line of defense against unsafe installations and poor workmanship.

Correction notice(s) or safety concerns

Over the years I have written several thousand correction notices. Some were several pages long with photos (substations), while others were a one-line item for an inappropriate cord cap. Some corrections are now energy related and do not relate to safety. As an example, a window with an inappropriate solar heat gain coefficient would not be a safety concern. However, if the window did not meet the minimum escape and rescue opening of 5.7 square feet, then it is a serious safety concern. Many of the corrections we write are a result of codes and standards developed either as a result of a death or injury, or a failure of an assembly such as a building. These codes and standards are developed, in part, by inspectors in the field (boots on the ground) performing inspections to ensure the safety of the public.

Proactive or reactive

I always hear in the field, “Why do I need to do that?” or, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, what’s the big deal?” To take the aforementioned example, if the escape and rescue opening of the window did not meet the minimum requirements of the Code, the occupants may not be able to escape during an event and/or first responders may be unable to complete a rescue into the structure. The other day, I had a contractor question my requirement for tamper-resistant receptacles in a living room. He said the home owner did not like the “look.” Really? This was as I looked around the room at all the kid’s toys. What we inspectors do on a daily basis is totally proactive and most certainly saves lives and mitigates property damage.

Because we are proactive, first responders are able to perform their jobs. Inspections performed during construction help to ensure that safety devices, such as smoke detectors and sprinklers, operate properly and that exit pathways are appropriately constructed with fire-resistive construction to allow extra time for escape or rescue. We ensure equipment disconnects have appropriate markings/labeling and are sufficient to withstand the environment. And we make sure disconnect locations are accessible for operation by first responders, and/or maintenance personnel who may assist during an event. What we correct today may affect the outcome of someone’s life and/or property in the future.

The overlooked heroes

As I watch the news of a structure fire being reported on TV, I can’t help but think of all the safety requirements that enabled the occupants to escape. Did the smoke detector go off, or did the fire sprinklers activate, or did the AFCI breaker trip and prevent the fire from progressing? The reporter indicates all escaped unharmed. The first responders are aiding and comforting the displaced family. Interviews occur with family members thanking the first responders for all the help and quick response. But what about the inspector who insisted that the smoke detectors, fire bell and sprinklers operated properly before final occupancy? What about the argument you had with your building official regarding your correction for the window opening that did not meet the 5.7 square feet to ensure that occupants can escape or be rescued? You won that argument, and there will be many more. My hat is off to all the inspectors who hold the line on safety and confront life safety issues head-on, even within your own departments. You are truly the overlooked heroes in our society.

This Christmas Card is for you.
Thanks for all you do!

Scott Humphrey
Scott Humphrey is currently a combination building inspector for The City of Chula Vista performing all aspects of construction inspection. Scott has been involved in the renewable energy sector since 2004, certified as an electrician since 1986 and served 4 years in the US Army. Scott possesses 18 ICC/ IAEI certifications for building inspections, is certified as a journeyman electrician in California & Washington State and is a voting member on several UL STPs. Scott is also GE Six Sigma certified.