In 1991, when I began my career with the Providence Fire Department, we had a thriving Fire Prevention Division. Plan reviewers, inspectors, consultants, a command structure and a budget. Now, we have empty offices where those people used to be.
100 people died in a nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003. Laws were changed, codes strengthened, a lot of noise made about the Draconian measures being taken to keep our citizens safe.
In Providence that noise echoes in an empty office. The Fire Department budget has been cut, and sliced, and chipped away so severely we are barely able to keep our minimum manning numbers current on the front line firefighting crews. We (Local 799, The Providence Firefighters Union) gave back manpower to the city during the last contract negotiations, and most of out fire fighting trucks are now staffed with three firefighters, when for a city the size of Providence and the extreme fire load here, four is necessary for an effective fire fighting force. Two in two out? Not likely when there are three on the first due apparatus.
There are a lot of nightclubs in Providence, a lot of cash, and not a lot of people watching over the circus. The last five years and the "economic crisis" has brought with it the ability to slash budgets and jeopardize public safety without much commentary from the very public that is in danger. The cost of lowering taxes, a smaller government and underfunding public safety is beginning to become clear.
A Fire Department needs a good Fire Prevention Division, staffed and budgeted, with an organizational structure, people to carry out the needed inspections and the tools to do the job.