Fire Department loses housing inspections in new city plan

  • Article by: RANDY FURST
  • Star Tribune
  • May 29, 2010 - 6:35 PM

Eight weeks to the day after three children and three adults were killed in an apartment fire in south Minneapolis, the Minneapolis City Council voted to overhaul its housing inspection program.

Under the plan, supervision and scheduling of the inspections was removed from the Fire Department and shifted to the city's Regulatory Services Department. Firefighters will continue to inspect larger apartment buildings and mixed-use commercial buildings.

Mayor R.T. Rybak called it a "tough issue" and praised the council's actions as well as the actions of firefighters during the April 2 fire.

"Progress has been made over the years, but a lot more progress needs to be made," he said of the inspections program.

Proposed changes, to take effect Jan. 1, had been under discussion for months, but the April 2 fire put additional scrutiny on the inspections process.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the apartments had not been inspected in 16 years. The report on the fire noted shortcomings in the Fire Department's management of inspections.

The proposal specifies that firefighters will continue to inspect buildings of four or more residential units. This week, the city's firefighters union and the black firefighters association opposed shifting administration of inspections, saying that Fire Chief Alex Jackson should be given a chance to fix the problems.

Council Member Betsy Hodges' amendment, which passed Friday, opens the door to the Fire Department resuming management of firefighter inspections if improvement can be demonstrated.

Regulatory services will oversee the inspections program "for a period of two years, or as determined by the City Council," Hodges' amendment states, and an independent audit will be conducted of the Fire Department's inspection program in the second year. The amendment calls for beefing up the Fire Department's management skills with help from Regulatory Services.

While the city cranked up its housing inspection program in 2005 with a plan to inspect apartments once every five years instead of every 17 years, the fire department was behind schedule. It inspected some buildings more than once while others hadn't been inspected yet, according to a report issued May 21.

The East Lake Street building that went up in flames was to have been inspected in July.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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