Building boom keeps fire inspectors busy

Assuring fire safety in new construction
Posted at 7:19 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 05:04:32-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A building boom has been keeping some Tucson firefighters especially busy---not fighting fires but making sure buildings do the best job possible keeping their occupants safe.

Despite the pandemic, construction is booming and that has led to a lot of demand for Tucson Fire Inspectors to do their work to make sure new buildings that are going up will be, and stay fire safe.

Tucson Fire has 20 inspectors. Four of them specialize in new construction.

Years of seeing how a fire can rip through a building helps Fire Inspector Jimmy Heinrichs educate building owners on what he does now: making sure buildings can keep a fire from spreading and buy time to help the people inside escape.

“We know the kind of fires we're responding to. We know the outcome of them. So by going to a building that has had an emergency, you can kind of see, okay, if this system doesn't work. This isn't maintained. Here's what happened.”

We visited the site where Sundt Construction is building modern apartments surrounding the historic Benedictine Monastery on Country Club. Inspectors are seeing a surge in this sort of construction--mixed use complexes that may combine places to live with office space and retail.

Inspector Michael Ross speaks the language of construction. He was a general contractor before he joined the Fire service

A room in the complex, surrounded by fire resistant walls and doors, holds powerful pumps and alarm systems to help the building knock down a fire before firefighters arrive---and to warn residents and help them escape.

Ross knows it’s a real milestone when these systems are tested and certified as ready to go.

“You'll have building representatives, usually the insurance company as well because they want to make sure that this is up and running. So you have this room filled with a dozen different people when we fire this up and run it through the whole gamut of tests, up to 150% of its capacity to make absolutely sure that when needed this pump is going to work.”

And inspectors see this work as the ideal type of firefighting---suppressing a fire before it can grow---or preventing a fire in the first place.