By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — The town fire marshals’ office got a boost in hours and pay to keep up with the backlog of local inspections and code violations.
Beacon Hose Company No. 1 Fire Chief Brian DeGeorge and Assistant Chief Cal Brennan have been in their roles before they took over as fire marshal and deputy fire marshal, respectively, in July 2019.
The Board of Finance approved a $7,665 increase for DeGeorge from $17,825 to proved a $7,665 increase for DeGeorge from $17,825 to $25,490. The board also approved Brennan to go from 10 hours to 20 hours, resulting in a pay increase from $14,000 to $26,658.
The marshal’s office is responsible for fire inspections of any business, three-family home or apartment building that needs to be inspected annually. Other properties can be inspected every three years.
Brennan asked the finance board for more hours due to not having enough hours to inspect all buildings on an annual basis.
“There is a major backlog of inspections,” he said.
Brennan said they had to build their office from the ground up and were only handed half a milk crate worth of paperwork regarding the last century of information. They had to figure out property cards and did not have records on what properties required inspection.
“We basically had nothing to go off,” he said at a Board of Finance meeting and budget workshop Tuesday.
There wasn’t a lot of transition, Finance Manager Natasha Nau said.
Edgar Rodriguez held three part-time positions — police lieutenant, fire marshal and emergency management director — for about 10 hours each, but left in 2018. Former Fire Marshal Keith C. Griffin took over as interim fire marshal for about seven months before leaving due to an illness, Nau said.
“We’re not here to bash what was done before us,” Brennan said. “We’re here to correct what we were handed.”
Brennan and DeGeorge have been inside 68 of the 90 buildings requiring inspection since they have taken over. Brennan said he has had a representative from state fire code enforcement join him on multiple inspections due to the severity of violations in town, including impaired fire protection systems, and blocked and insufficient egresses.
Brennan said one property in town, at 141 South Main St., is a death trap.
“That has been cut up, illegally modified, obviously without the building inspector being notified many, many times,” Brennan said. “So it’s not a big deal, you think, of people putting walls here and there. Well it is a big deal in a sprinkler building because now it just boxed out fire protection. It just boxed out the sprinkler system.”
Brennan said there have been some positive impacts. Fire officials have been to about 8% of homes in town to install smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, and several buildings have been brought up to code, Brennan noted.
“I’m also here to advocate for the people. The people didn’t know what they were doing was wrong or they wouldn’t have done it,” Brennan said. “It was lack of accountability for the last 20-something years that put these people in this predicament.”
First Selectman Gerard Smith supported the extra hours, saying he and fire officials need to get together quarterly to implement plans.
“In light of what we just heard, I think we almost need to approve the additional hours because we need to get close to compliance so we can at least have in the books that we made an attempt to go forward,” he said.