FAIRFIELD — The Fire Department is implementing a new life safety inspection program for commercial buildings to augment its existing complaint-driven inspections.

The new inspection regimen was authorized under an amendment to the town’s fire safety ordinance passed by the Town Council earlier this month.

The department has inspected businesses and apartment buildings when it receives complaints, but the ordinance allows fire officials to start a scheduled inspection program for all commercial buildings, Fire Chief Duane Bickford said in an interview Thursday afternoon.

“We’re moving from reactive life safety buildings inspections to proactive inspections,” Bickford said.

The idea for inspections grew out of strengthened building code requirements established in a state law passed in 2012, and it wasn’t in reaction to a specific incident or concern about the safety of businesses in town, according to Bickford.

The inspections will cover more than 100 businesses and new commercial construction. The parameters of an inspection depend on the size and complexity of the building, but generally it covers issues such as fire exits, making sure extinguishers are up to date and sprinkler systems or other fire suppression systems are working.

Aside from identifying code violations, the inspections also will give firefighters an understanding of the building’s layout that could assist them if they respond to a fire at the property, Bickford said.

For a small business such as a hair salon, an inspection could take 10 to 15 minutes, Bickford said. On the other hand, large, complicated facilities, such as the Huhtamaki plant on Main Street, could take “days and days,” he said. Property owners will be given advance notice of when an inspection is going to take place.

Although Bickford is the only member of the Fairfield department certified to carry out the inspections, he hopes to train three shift captains to bear some of the workload and react to complaints. The hope is for each of the qualified staff to conduct two inspections a month, he said.

New construction is also subject to inspections. The Fire Department plans to work with building owners to make sure they are building to code. Most of the construction inspections will be carried out alongside the town’s code enforcement officer, Bickford said.

“It’s just another set of eyes and more effective to have people do inspections at the same time,” he said.

Initial inspections will not cover multi-unit apartment buildings, but the intent is to add those buildings in the future, Bickford said, and the department still will investigate complaints made about apartments. The department receives about one complaint every two months, mostly from residential units, he said.

Benton, which is covered by the same department, has not adopted an ordinance of its own.

Neighboring Waterville has had an inspection ordinance for decades, Chief David LaFountain said. The inspection schedule covers all commercial buildings with a license issued by the city and multi-unit apartment buildings. According to LaFountain, buildings are inspected annually, and the city recently boosted its program by adding more inspectors. In Fairfield, inspections haven’t started in earnest, but Bickford believes that most business owners take fire safety seriously, especially because safety measures now often are included for insurance purchases.

To be fair, the department is organizing inspections from an alphabetical list and will not make any businesses priorities unless a complaint is made, Bickford said.

“The intent is not to be punitive,” he said. “The intent is to make buildings safe for the public.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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