By C. Julia Nelson
cjnelson@reporternewspapers.net

Despite decades of neglect, most of the buildings in Sandy Springs are steadily coming into compliance with the city’s fire and life safety code.

In December, 2006, the Sandy Springs Fire Rescue Department began inspecting every facility within city limits, most of which have gone without inspection for at least 10 years.

Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Scarbrough said although local schools and doctor’s offices have been routinely inspected, they are the exception.

“Some business owners hadn’t seen (an inspector) in 10 years,” he said.

Based on the extended lull in inspections, the department is being lenient while they educate business owners on safety standards.

“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” he said. “We’re trying to make things safe. We have been very flexible in giving a fair amount of time to make corrections. We’re working with people, not against them.”

Through December 2007, the department completed 2,488 inspections. Of those, only two citations were issued for non-compliance and currently, 249 inspections are pending.

One citation issued to Burger Joe’s, formerly of 7277 Roswell Rd., was based on the unsanitary lack of a hood system. That establishment has since closed. La Rumba, 6317 Roswell Road, also received a citation and has since closed, although the reason for closing is unknown.

Among the most common of violations is the lack of Ansul hood suppression systems in restaurants, or failure to professionally maintain and clean them at least once annually.

In many cases, the cost to correct violations is steep, so the city is trying to make corrections as cost effective as possible. That window of opportunity and leniency, however, is growing smaller by the day.

“We’re trying to bring everything up to a minimum level of fire and life safety,” he said. “Once we get to that point, our leniency is going to get shorter.”

Cheryl Walls, a fire inspector and investigator for the city said top priority facilities are those that are potentially hazardous to public health. Among those are restaurants, places of assembly such as night clubs and bars, hotels and motels.

“We’ve gotten a great reception (from the community),” Walls said about the first round of inspections.

To date, all schools, day care centers, assisted living facilities, big box stores and high-rise buildings in Sandy Springs have been inspected at least once.

“All the mid- and high-rise buildings I’ve been involved with have done a good job maintaining their systems,” Walls said. “We’ve seen one high-rise with only two exits, one of which wasn’t accessible. Some things you just can’t fix over night.”

School inspections have been overwhelmingly reassuring, revealing only minor infractions. Burnt out light bulbs in exit signs and inappropriate use of extension cords seem to be the worst of school violations. “Daisy-chaining” extension cords between power strips and electric outlets has become commonplace based on outlet shortages.

Another common problem is the lack of Knox Boxes at gated communities, especially apartment complexes. These key-pad units are specifically issued by Sandy Springs emergency responders to gain access during emergencies; old issue boxes from Fulton County are now useless within the city.

Currently, the department is inspecting mid-rise buildings, churches, apartment complexes, shopping centers and offices.

Building owners can prepare for inspections by updating and monitoring all life and fire safety features including sprinkler systems, fire exit signs, extension cords, flammable and combustible items, cooking equipment, fire alarms and fire extinguishers. System assessments from sprinkler and fire safety companies provide valid input and are strong indicators of what should be serviced before inspectors arrive.

For inspection inquiries, contact Walls at cheryl.walls@sandyspringsga.org.