Audit shows mandated fire inspections not being done in Michigan

The State Fire Marshall says inspections of public places of assembly are not being done due to lack of funding. (Photo from Sarah White)

LANSING, Mich - May 28, 1966 was pure terror for hundreds of people at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate Kentucky.

165 people died in that fire in Kentucky.

The fire in Kentucky prompted changes to building codes and mandatory fire inspections nationwide.

State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer says the 1977 Kentucky fire was the tragedy that changed everything.

"In 1977 those who were in office thought this would be a good idea to add public act 207," said Sehlmeyer

Public act 207 calls for yearly inspections of places of public assemblies.

Everything from bowling alley's, community halls, bars, museums and movie theaters fall under public act 207.

According to a 2017 state audit those inspections are not getting done, and have never been done since the law was written back in the late 70's.

Reporter Dave Bondy asks Sehlmeyer, "all these places of public assembly are not being inspected" Sehlmeyer responded, "they are not, the good news if there is good news when you look at the full amount of occupancy statewide when you look at the populated areas within the state that have fire departments with fire inspectors the local fire departments are doing it"

But are they being inspected? We asked two local fire departments, both Midland and Clio and they say they aren't doing all of the inspections.

"I knew things were supposed to be inspected but I didn't realize things weren't getting done like they were supposed to," said Clio Area Fire Chief Kerry Paulson.

According to the law it's the job of the state fire marshal to inspect these buildings.

So why isn't it getting done?

The State Fire Marshall says it's all about the money.

According to the law it's the job of the state fire marshal to inspect these buildings.

So why isn't it getting done?

Right now the state has 21 fire inspectors, to inspect every eligible building the state would need 300 total inspectors. In order to train the additional 309 inspectors would cost one thousand dollars per person or $330,000 in training and forty million dollars a year for full time staffing.

Even though they legally don't have to conduct these inspections, the Midland Fire Department tried the best they can.

"We feel we are negligient if we don't, somebody has to do these occupancy and ensure these fire prevention measures are in place, we don't want to see something like a nightclub fire with multiple casualties," said Midland Fire Chief Chris Coughlin.

Coughlin is talking about the infamous Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003.

Pyrotechnics ignited a fire trapping people inside, 100 people died, 230 were hurt.

Coughlin says if something isn't done it's just a matter of time before someone is hurt or killed.

State Representative Phil Phelps didn't know about this problem until we told him.

Phelps agrees with local fire chiefs saying something needs to be done.

"Its the state's job and the governments job to make sure big places like this people are safe in those areas," said Phelps.

Most local fire departments don't have the staff or the resourced to do the inspections.

"We are a volunteer department just scraping by," said Paulson.

One solution could be to have business owners pay for their own inspections like they do in Grand Rapids.

"Fees are taken in on public assembly buildings," said Sehlmeyer

Making the business owners pay comes at a price.

It could cost between $250 and $500 a year for inspections.

Until a change is made, the fire chiefs we talked to want the public to know their safety is now in their own hands.

"Take responsibility and check it yourself to make sure," said Paulson


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