When Jeff Tomczak took the reins as Upper Gwynedd Township Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator in May 2013, he was coming on board in a township with a severely outdated fire code.
Tomczak knew something had to be done immediately.
“The fire code was something new that I took on,” he said. “There was a previous one … that was no longer considered an ‘industry consensus standard.’ The new one – the 2009 International Fire Code – is the consensus standard for the majority of the country,” he said.
Portions of the fire code were adopted through the Uniform Construction Code, he said, which is regulated by the state Labor and Industry division.
Along with the new fire code, Tomczak began instituting fire inspections for all commercial properties in the township.
Tomczak updated the board of commissioners Tuesday on the fire inspection program. He said that fire inspections began in March and April.
Thus far, 32 commercial properties have completed inspections. It can be time consuming, especially for properties like Lehigh Valley Dairies or some schools, where it is one entity, but 10 buildings exist on the grounds.
“To conduct inspections, the full code needed to be adopted, not just the portions from the UCC,” he said. “Inspections are new, and more municipalities are coming on board with them as a means to ensure that buildings are being kept up to date, in regard to fire and life safety.”
Tomczak said there is an initial timeline of 18 to 24 months to complete all inspections.
“It’s my goal that, through education of the public, that that number will be reduced for the next round of inspections,” he said.
Public education includes visiting daycares and schools, which require annual visits by the fire marshal, Tomczak said.
“In regard to teachers, (we educate them) so they have the proper training on what to do in the event of a fire with children,” Tomczak said. “We do tests of fire alarm systems. In fact, we did the final test at Gwynedd Square Elementary. They have a new system over there.”
Commissioners President Ken Kroberger asked about the response from commercial properties on the new inspection program. Tomczak said he has designed a pamphlet, which is given to property owners prior to inspection.
“I go out face-to-face and show them what I’m looking for,” he said. “Obviously, there are ones who take heed and ones who don’t. Some have three things wrong in a huge facility, and some have 25 things wrong in a small building. It’s a learning process from myself to them on why we are doing this and the safety aspects behind it.”
Kroberger asked if commercial properties are required by their insurance companies to conduct their own inspections.
Tomczak said some larger businesses have third-party insurance companies that come out to conduct fire inspections.
“I’m not always looking at everything they are looking at, and they are not always looking at everything I am looking at,” Tomczak said. “Mine is fire and life safety hazards.”