County needs to rethink this fire marshal thingy
by Jeff Latcham
May 04, 2012 | 2126 views | 6 6 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A local businessman recently shared his first interaction with newly hired city/county fire marshal who dropped by to review some expansion plans – plans that had gone through rigorous review by numerous engineers and inspectors.

The businessman found the visit annoying and redundant. Then he was hit with the $75 fee and, to top it off, the fire marshal was packing a pistol for his inspection, because he’s also a certified law officer.

Regardless, it sort of had the feel of a Chicago building inspector shakedown.

In selling the creation of the new fire marshal position, the Commissioners Court was excited about it not costing taxpayers money and promising that the move would lower fire insurance rates for Bee County by lowering the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating.

Let’s begin with the promise of lower insurance rates via the ISO rating. A quick check of the Internet finds that many insurance companies have dropped the ISO rating as a consideration in their rates. State Farm, for instance, quit using ISO ratings in 2001, preferring other, more exact data to set rates for specific buildings.

Insurance professionals we spoke with say it’s unlikely Bee Countians would see any rate reductions from the newly created position.

As for not costing taxpayers money, these annual visits will cost businesses $75 a year, which may not be much when you’re a commissioner and spending other people’s money, but to businesses, it’s just another tax.

Businesses already have a wealth of options when it comes to fire safety at far less cost. We, for instance, undergo inspections from our fire extinguisher company every year and update those. There’s also the Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program (OSHCON) housed at the Texas Department of Insurance, which provides full safety inspections, including fire prevention and systems, for free.

The court should rethink foisting another redundant bureaucracy on citizens.

At best, this move looks like it’s taken from the California school of government overregulation and waste. At worst, it looks like the Chicago shakedown as previously mentioned.

There’s a reason businesses are fleeing unnecessary, burdensome regulation to come to Texas. Let’s not start mucking it up at the local level.

At the very least, reduce the fee to reflect the actual service provided, as well as the truth – or lack thereof –about cutting our fire insurance rates. Oh, and ditch the pistol on fire inspection visits. It’s a bit over the top.

– Jeff Latcham

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May 05, 2012

I assume you're the fire marshall from your response. I was out yesterday afternoon but found your phone message this morning at the office. We'll talk Monday.

May 05, 2012
polarbob1, you're comments are welcome. No, I didn't write the letter to the editor previously as we put our real names on the stuff we as staff write around here.

We appreciate your son's fundraising efforts on behalf of the burned out family. This community has always rallied to the needs of victims even before we had the new position.

May 05, 2012
Mr. Latcham,

The opinions you express in your newspaper are your choice. However, prior to putting information in the news print you should really get the facts from both parties.

One interesting fact that was missed in your editorial is the fact that Mr. Aztec Chevrolet was not charged any fee by the Fire Marshal, as it was just a simple meeting. If he claims he got charged, have him produce proof of a bill or receipt. Further, if anyone references Local Government Code 352, or Health and Safety Code 775, as well as the local fire codes in place, this gives way for right to entry, inspection fees, even allowing permitting fees for constructing and operating any business...of which are not being charged. And the fee is part of a business expense that is tax deductible like any other expenses. Of course the alternative is taxing everyone. If that solves this issue of funding, as the previous letter to the editor suggested, please present that to the Commissioners' Court during the upcoming budget discussions.

Your article also states that the fee should be lowered to reflect work performed. However, the point being missed all across the board is Public Education costs. Including in our schools, which is lacking. Where will the funding come from for programs to teach children about fire safety? Certainly not the tapped budgets from local government. But again, isn't lowering this "tax" still going to be a "tax" if it's lowered? Come to think of it, isn't trash service a tax? Or is it a service for fee just like the Fire Inspection?

Let me ask this, why do businesses keep up with fire extinguisher inspections and maintenance? If there is no Fire Marshal inspection to verify it's done, what is the purpose? State Law. Just as fire inspections are State Law. What's the difference? Fire Marshal inspections are new to this area, whereas businesses have dealt with extinguisher inspections for decades here in Bee County. As for OSHCON, that is not the same as a fire inspection that is required by Fire Code. OSHCON is designed to help guide businesses in fire and disaster planning. They will come out and help a business plan for emergencies and perform courtesy inspections to help point out fire hazards.

Let's talk about other things the Fire Marshal does, without compensation. The house fire on May 1st for instance. It takes several hours to investigate fires, interview witnesses, and write reports. And insurance companies need reports to determine payout on claims. Yet this is not a compensated cost.

Anyone with questions about the fees, public education, inspection process, or anyone who would like to see what important fire and life safety hazards have already been caught and resolved by the Fire Marshal to date should contact 361-354-5789.

May 04, 2012
You know Jeff, regarding the little nasty gram you wrote about the Fire Marshall just because you're part owner of the paper and you can, you really ought to check more into the people you try to crucify in the court of public opinion-just because it's your newspaper-and you can, and some people actually read the drivel you write.Just to stir up your readers politically- both of them.

What you didn't bother to tell your readers(both of them) is that in the state of Texas, a certified peace officer is required by law to be armed 24/7 for the protection of the public.

And while pointing the accusatory finger at the fire marshal for Chicago style shake downs, if you'd bothered to get more than a 5 line story blurb and photograph of the house fire last Thursday that left a family homeless, you'd know that the Fire Marshall you want to have publicly executed for following his mandate to carry a weapon in protection of himself and the public, you’d know that he also VOLUNTEERS with both Beeville FD and the County Constable-and went inside the burning home with other PAID fire fighters and volunteers to stop the fire from damaging others homes and possibly preventing loss of life and injury.

He trains and teaches with Beeville FD on his own time and also volunteers with the constable’s office to serve his community. Not perform Chicago style shakedowns in the

enforcement of legitimate county fire codes. But because you have a personal axe to grind with the county judge and a newspaper subscription to sell, character assassination

and inflammatory speech against county officials is ok.

Oh ,and by the way, this shakedown artist is part of an effort to raise funding and clothes to help the family that lost their home in the fire. But you won’t bother to check out that part of the story either- it won’t serve your personal political agenda or satisfy your one discontented reader.

Did you bother to consider before putting pixels in the public wind that a service fee or “tax” as it could most certainly be considered in the true sense of the word is less of an imposition and burden on the public in general when imposed on specific end users rather than the public at large.

By the way, just how many independent insurance agents or state insurance examiners

DID you interview before begin chasing this windmill anyway?

Find a job you can actually do Jeff. Someone must be hiring a cub reporter or intern somewhere in the state. How about a career in county government you have it in for? You’re already pretty lazy when it comes to research and a damn good twister of facts to boot.

I suspect that you make the nom de plume of the “reader” who complained 2 weeks ago and yours may be one and the same. Bet you don’t have the heuvos to print this one either…it dissents from your personal political view.

Yup, I’m his Dad, and damn proud of it. He does more with a single breath to serve and protect nimrods like you than you do in a lifetime with your little character assassination attemps.

May 04, 2012
Ha! You don't even read your own paper Jeff. The Chicago "Shake down" Fire Marshall's name (aka MY son…)and phone number is listed in the article about the family who lost their home Thursday as the "go to" person, the point of contact for donations of funds and support for the family.

I on the other hand re-read your little blurb, and still have to question your research into the insurance savings you wrote about demeaning the services provided. Not one name of a reliable unimpeachable source of your information is provided.

And there are only 2 disgruntled complainants in the last month. One complaining about the fee and the other in support of the county actually funding the program. So instead of it being a tax deductible business tax for a LEGITIMATE business to be concerned with, you and the 2nd respondent want to share the joy with ALL the citizens of Beeville.

Bet you don't challenge your congressional representatives in DC to impose a more equitable flat tax or sales tax on all of us in behalf of your poor oppressed readers, but you'll beat up a county job and a dedicated public servant who gives up a LOT of his family time to protect YOU and yours.