Fire Inspections

This page shall serve as the official Fire Inspection Policy for the San Andreas Fire Department:

Last Updated:  12/09/2022
By:   Kidd B.


x.x- Purpose 

A code enforcement system is the process a city, county, or jurisdictional authority uses to manage or enforce compliance with legally adopted codes and ordinances. 

x.x- Fire Inspection Objectives

x.x- Community Interaction Expectations

How the inspector comes across during an inspection is essential to the success of the inspection. Being tough because you have the law on your side does not work in this day and age. Being courteous, polite, and even friendly will go a long way toward a successful inspection. If an inspector is curt, overly businesslike, and unfriendly it will have a similar effect on the representative of the occupancy being inspected.

From a public relations standpoint it is essential that the inspector explain the legal reasons for the inspection and the value (fire and life safety) of compliance. Assure the company representative that every effort will be made to address only those situations that must be dealt with, and that compliance now could result in greater savings in the future through the prevention of a fire and possible injury or loss of life. 

Believe it or not, when we conduct an inspection the people we deal with are our customers. We are called the fire service because service is what we provide. Whether we are fighting a fire, providing medical aid, or conducting an inspection, the element for which we are recognized is the service provided. By treating these people as our customers, and in the manner we would like to be treated, we are establishing this customer-service orientation. Surely, you have been in a restaurant where the servers treated you as if they were doing you a favor serving you the food you ordered: did you like it? Likewise, if an inspector treats an inspection as if it is drudgery, or a favor to the customer rather than a service, the customer will not like it either. 

So remember, on the inspections you perform, these are tax-paying customers you are dealing with. Treat them as customers and you probably will get a great deal of cooperation and end up with a successful inspection.

 x.x- Inspection Preparation

x.x-Conducting a Systematic Inspection

It is recommended that you arrive at the inspection site a few minutes ahead of schedule. This will allow you to survey the exterior of the building and help you become familiar with the overall area to be inspected. 

A few of the things to look for during this survey include the following: 

Take notes of what hazards you observe so you can review them with the customer. Include them in your report. 

Entry Interview

Now it is time to meet your customer and begin the inspection. Often this is called the "entry interview" because it allows you and your customer to ask each other questions pertaining to the inspection. You may already have answered some when you called ahead to schedule the inspection. But since that time, as you reviewed the file on the establishment, you may have come up with some unanswered questions. This might be the time to ask them, especially if they deal with previous inspections and followup. It is critical that you approach this part of your work in a positive, proactive way. Introduce yourself and show proper identification so the customer knows who you are. Explain that this is a fire safety inspection and that it will benefit everyone by ensuring that this business or occupancy complies with local codes. State that one of the major goals of the inspection is a safer building for occupants, visitors, or customers and that it will reduce or minimize the risk of a fire. 

Systematic Walkthrough 

As you begin the inspection the most important thing to remember is to inspect all areas of each floor. Systematically proceed to each floor, working from the bottom up or the top down. Having an established system for inspecting so that you do not miss floor areas is the key to the systematic system. Every room, closet, and concealed area should be checked for fire hazards. Any areas that are locked should be unlocked and checked. The building representative can assist you with these needs. As you inspect each floor make a simple sketch if one is not available. This will help you in remaining oriented once you return to the office to prepare the final inspection report. These sketches also can be passed on for use as preplanning material and to assist in future inspections. Try to get the facility to provide a sketch or floor plan diagram if available. While conducting the inspection, record your observations and note anything you need to research later in the code. 

x.x-Inspection Items


Good housekeeping is plain common sense. You do not need intense training to recognize, almost intuitively, whether or not the housekeeping on the premises is satisfactory. Cleanliness and orderliness are basic to good fire safety. If you feel uneasy about the quality of the housekeeping or the general care and management of the property, then pay more attention to hazards management in the facility. Cleanliness is a good tipoff. Good housekeeping practices--both indoors and outdoors--are needed to control the presence of unwanted fuels, obstructions, and sources of ignition. Certain aspects of housekeeping are a common denominator to most properties whatever their use; others are peculiar to a particular occupancy. It is neither practical nor possible to describe every feature of housekeeping for all occupancies; the alert inspector will visualize hazardous housekeeping situations peculiar to the occupancy being inspected and be prepared to offer recommendations to eliminate them. Over a period of time, you will develop a sense of what to look for and what is or is not appropriate. 

Exitway Maintenance 

An inspector always should note how to exit any area of a building being inspected. If you cannot see a way out or easily find an exit, maybe the occupants of the building will not be able to, either. In most cases exits are marked by lighted exit signs. It is important to check all (illuminated) exit signs to make sure they are working. Next, check to make sure the exit path is clear and unobstructed. Too often storage, trash, tables, or other obstructions line the exit path or are placed in front of or on the other side of an exit door. Here again, some common sense can be used to determine if a violation exists. If the inspector cannot get out, no one else can. Check doors and locking devices. Depending on the occupancy, different types of locking devices are allowed or disallowed. Be familiar with the requirements for the occupancy being inspected. If there is panic hardware but it is chained, it is pretty obvious there is a problem. If a door marked as an exit has a knob that can be turned to open but is locked on the other side, this is most likely acceptable. But if there is also a keyed deadbolt or chain lock on the door, there is very likely a problem. Doors should swing in the direction of exit travel and if they lead to an exit stairwell this path must be clear, unobstructed, and lead to the outside of the building. As you become more familiar with code requirements for different occupancies you will develop a more indepth understanding of exit requirements. The most important thing to remember as a new inspector is "if you can't get out, neither can anyone else in the building." This should alert you to investigate further and see if exiting violations exist. 

Storage--Piled Stock

 Problems with storage can go from the very simple to the very complex. For the benefit of the new inspector it is important to note that knowledge of enforcing code provisions in the area comes with experience. The degree of fire hazard found within storage occupancies is governed primarily by the commodities (products) being stored and the storage arrangements employed. Together with the height and construction of the storage building these considerations or factors determine the level of fire protection required. An inspector inexperienced in dealing with piled storage should note the product being stored, size of the pile (height, width, depth), and proximity to fire protection system (sprinklers). This information will assist you during research of potential code violations and lead to a proper determination of appropriate corrective measures. This is an example of things you note during the inspection that require some post inspection research. 

Detection and Suppression Equipment

While conducting an inspection you must look at all fire detection and suppression equipment. Sprinkler system control valves must be in the open position and chained. If not, the system most likely is not operational. Sprinkler and standpipe connections must be clear and free of obstructions. The threads on these connections must be inspected to make sure they are not damaged. Look to make sure paper, bottles, or other debris have not been pushed into these openings. This would cause an obstruction. Smoke detectors must be kept clean. A visual inspection will give you a good idea if they are working properly. Most detectors have a permanent or intermittent flashing light that tells you if the detector has power and is working. Make sure that fire sprinkler heads are clean, not painted, and are free of obstructions. If the water cannot reach the area the sprinkler is designed to serve due to storage (boxes, bookshelves, etc.) being too close to the sprinkler heads, it will not put out a fire once it starts. Plants, decorations, and other hangings should not be placed on or near sprinkler heads. SM PP-19 INSPECTION PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES SM PP-20 It is not the inspector's responsibility to conduct tests of fire protection systems. These tests should be conducted by qualified or certified individuals trained to perform them. As an inspector you may observe and validate these tests, or receive documentation that the tests have been conducted and what the results were. An inspector should never open or close valves, activate alarms, or perform other test functions. These actions usually lead to problems for the inspector. 

Janitorial, Electrical, and Elevator Room Storage 

Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the theory used by people who store any number of potential fire hazards in janitorial, electrical, or elevator rooms. Trash, flammable liquids, combustibles such as boxes and cardboard, and other hazards commonly end up in these rooms. If they are neatly stored and in appropriate containers, this storage may not be a problem. But if you find open containers or debris spread about or stored close to electrical panels or water heaters, there is probably a code violation. Most people do not think of these areas as being hazardous so when they say "it's only a janitorial room" and want to pass it by, do not agree. Insist that you look these areas over closely to ensure that there are no inherent hazards. 

x.x-General Inspection Concerns

In addition to these broad areas of concern, there are other hazards or potential hazards the inspector must look for. Although not all-inclusive, the following sections will give you some basic ideas on what else to look for during an inspection.

Ashes and Sawdust 

Emphasize the safe handling and disposal of ashes. Only approved containers should be used in a facility. Once these containers are emptied into an outside container, it is critical to check the ashes and, if necessary, water them down. This should give the greatest margin of safety. Remember you are selling fire prevention. Explain how fires can be caused by unthinking acts. Treat large amounts of sawdust to be discarded with respect. Store sawdust only in approved containers that are properly vented. Special emphasis here should be placed on the inspection of commercial and industrial properties. Sawdust that accumulates around or is produced by machinery should be swept on a regular basis. Sources of ignition in the area should be identified and controlled. Also, some areas may be using sawdust to absorb some type of leakage or waste from a particular process. Carefully observe what could be mixed in the sawdust and properly advise the owner how best to handle the situation. 

Packing Materials 

The quantity and type of packing materials stored in buildings should be of concern to the fire prevention inspector. Stress prohibiting smoking in areas where combustibles or flammable materials are stored. Observation of ignition sources, such as open flames, temporary wiring, overloaded extension wires, etc., needs to be second nature to the inspector; look hard, think how a fire could start in any given area. Another important point to consider with packing materials is not only the fact that they will burn, but that gases will be given off when they burn. Point this out to the owner and note in the report the types of packing material stored and used. 

Old Furniture and Paper 

You will often find old furniture and paper in remote storage areas, especially in institutions, educational facilities, and office buildings. Old papers and furniture should be discarded unless they are being kept for future use. If this is the case, they should be stored properly. It is the responsibility of the inspector to assist the owner in identifying a safe method to do so. 

Cleaning Products 

Cleaning products need to be stored and used properly. Some of these products can ignite spontaneously and will burn easily. Flammable cleaning products should be kept in an approved cabinet away from sources of ignition. In the interest of fire prevention, talk with the owner to be sure such materials are used properly and that no product is being used in an unsafe or unhealthy manner. The old saying, "When all else fails, read the instructions," can very easily apply here. Read the instructions first to help prevent a possible disaster. 

Smoking Materials 

Smoking is the most difficult ignition source to control. It is a longaccepted social practice and people have become adept at smoking anywhere and everywhere. The problem is compounded by the fact that at times there is a total disregard for the proper disposal of matches, ashes, and butts. Try to instill a proper attitude in the minds of all who are in the facility. This again is selling fire prevention. It is hoped that fire codes already will have restricted smoking when there is an obvious potential danger. If not, explain the problem and work to control or restrict it. It is difficult to control smoking in high-risk areas such as department stores, barns, shipping rooms, lumberyards, warehouses, etc. Smoking is always dangerous in places where it is not allowed. Check with your local jurisdiction regarding the specific legislation that may have to be enacted regarding smoking in public as well as specific situations, such as elevators. Explain to the owner that you need to indicate and assign smoking areas and times for employees in some industrial and commercial risk areas. Good, substantial ashtrays need to be provided. Post a sign in the area which prohibits smoking. The sign may explain the reason for prohibiting smoking such as "No Smoking--Flammable Vapors." Remember, sell fire prevention, and assist the owner to the best of your ability to bring about good attitudes regarding smoking and the handling of smoking materials. 

Waste Cans and Spontaneous Heating

Certain oily wastes, paints, rags, and wiping and polishing cloths can ignite spontaneously. If the heat cannot escape, the material may ignite. The solution is to store oily rags in U/L listed closed metal (safety) containers and remove the material from the building as soon as possible. Paints and other flammable and combustible liquids are to be stored in U/L listed cabinets. Oily wastes should be stored outside in a safe place until they are removed from the immediate area. 

Interior Finishes 

Some of the key points in life safety are smoke generation, fuel contribution, and flame spread of the interior finish. Remember to observe the walls, floors, and ceilings for their finishes, coverings, decorations, curtains, etc., in all occupancies. These are usually controlled during building design by the codes; however, people rearrange or renovate after occupancy. These renovations may or may not create new code problems. The wood paneling, the paint, the wall covering, the carpet, and the ceiling tiles all can contribute to fire and life safety problems. You need to study your fire code for the specifics in your area. In summary, we have only scratched the surface. This brief discussion will, it is hoped, get you started. 

x.x-Common Hazards by Occupancy

Another way to attack the problem is to look at typical occupancies and list the most common hazards found in each. This method will help you generate a list of areas or items to inspect. 

The following are hazards peculiar to different occupancies, and ones you frequently will find violated. 

Multi-unit residences

Assembly occupancies




Office buildings



x.x-Completing the Inspection

After you have completed the inspection and before leaving the premises it is important to conduct an exit interview with the customer. Here you want to review the purpose of the inspection--a fire- and occupant-safe building that meets the requirements of local codes. Reemphasize your desire to work with the owner to gain compliance. 

Review with the customer those violations that have been immediately identified and can be corrected in the near future. Let the owner know that you will research and evaluate other potential violations and that you will schedule a meeting in the next few days to review the final inspection report. 

At this point you should answer any questions the customer may have. For those you cannot answer right away, make notes; assure the customer that you will research the question and get answers right away. 

Thank the customer for cooperating. The onsite inspection is now completed. 

x.x-After the Inspection

Now that the field inspection is completed it is time to develop the inspection report. This is where you review your notes and floor sketches, research the applicable codes, and determine what corrective measures will bring the occupancy into fire- and life-safety compliance. Base all your recommendations on the code. 

You also must determine what potential violations to refer to another agency. If you feel there are major electrical hazards to be corrected it may be appropriate to refer these to your jurisdiction's electrical inspection division. If you observed potential health problems (e.g., grease and dirt in kitchen vent systems, or cockroaches or rats in a restaurant) document and refer this information to the health department. As an inspector you have an obligation to take action on obvious health and safety violations even if they do not come under your authority. Find out what kind of referral system your jurisdiction has and use it to the best of your ability. Do not overlook or ignore these situations; remember your job is fire and life safety, but even more importantly, it is service to the people of your community. 

Develop your final inspection report and plan to meet with the customer. Provide the customer a copy of the inspection report and, if necessary, walk through the building and discuss where the violations are, why they are violations, and what corrective measures must be taken. Make sure the customer knows that action must be taken as soon as possible, and that fire safety violations cannot be put off for future correction. 

The report can be an informal notation in the file or log book, a completed inspection form, or a formal typed report in letter form. All of these will serve the basic purpose of documenting that you conducted an inspection and that you recorded certain data and violations. 

There are times when it is advantageous to the fire prevention bureau, fire department, or code enforcement agency to write a formal inspection report. A formal inspection report might be required under the following circumstances: 

When a formal report is written, send a copy to the occupant. The occupant is informed of property violations and recommendations for corrective action at the completion of the inspection. Some jurisdictions also set a timeframe for corrective action. 

x.x-Report Filing and Retrieval

The first step in writing a report is taking good field notes. Do this with an inspection form or a simple note pad. You must take notes as the inspection progresses; otherwise it will later be hard to recall some aspects of the inspection. These notes should be made as the information is obtained. One of the basic rules of note taking is that the information be clear and complete. A good point to remember is "When in doubt, write it down." File these notes or field inspection forms. 

Provide a backup if anything should happen to the report. This not only can aid you with the report, but also can assist in refreshing memory of a particular inspection. Ordinarily general fire inspections can be conducted, recorded, and reported by using a prearranged inspection form or checklist

The report should contain general information, specific information, and recommendations. The recommendations must indicate what needs to be done (code section reference), and they must be specific and clear. 

Avoid some common errors in report writing. These include the use of personal pronouns. I, we, me, and our should not be used, as they reflect a personal opinion. Terms such as "recommended by" and "according to the code" should be used. 

Omit general statements. Use only clear, complete, and precise statements. Once these statements are made they should be addressed with the appropriate code references. Use only correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary. The report needs to project a professional tone. This report should be written on a level that the reader will understand. Remember, the reader is neither an engineer nor an inspector, nor experienced in the language of the code or technical writing. Write so that the customer can understand it.

The following is an outline for writing an inspection report. With careful planning and preparation, the inspector will be able to complete the inspection report accurately and easily.