Commentary: Improving Fire Marshal Inspections

Commentary: Improving Fire Marshal Inspections

Fairfax County’s Fire Marshal office has adopted reforms advocated for by Mount Vernon Lee Chamber that will improve the way businesses receive inspections and allow businesses to provide comments on the service received.

Here’s how it happened. As part of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department’s strategic planning process, the Chamber sent a letter that encouraged a review of the Fire Marshal office as part of the strategic planning. We encouraged specific procedures that could improve the interaction between businesses and fire marshals.

As a result of this letter, then Fire Chief Bowers called and set up a meeting between the Chamber leadership and himself and top officials in the FCF&RD. At this meeting, Jane Gandee, ServiceMaster Restore; Scott Stroh, Gunston Hall; Sonja Caison, The Cleaning Authority; Chris Reddick, The National Capital Bank; Phyllis Sintay, McEnearney Associates; and myself represented the interests of the business community. These business leaders who volunteer their time with the Chamber are very effective advocates and as an organization we have influence.

We discussed two specific initiatives that could improve the customer service aspect of the Fire Marshal office. The first was project-based inspections or assigning the same Fire Marshal to a project from beginning to end rather than have one inspector give certain instructions followed by another inspector who would give different or additional instructions. This reform has been adopted. It was an idea whose time had come.

The second recommendation was a customer service survey for those who had received a Fire Marshal visit. The Chamber made the point that this is standard procedure for businesses now to want to know how their employees perform in their interactions with the public. This recommendation has also been adopted.

After a visit by a Fire Marshal you can now visit and take a survey that begins, “In our effort to efficiently and effectively meet your needs, please evaluate your most recent experience with our Inspections staff and services by completing this short survey. Your feedback will help us better identify and address issues impacting those like yourself, whom we serve every day.”

The survey can be anonymous if you desire or if you would like a supervisor to contact you regarding the visit then you must leave your contact information. This is a huge victory for businesses. When you receive a visit from the Fire Marshal’s office please take the survey and provide comments.

These are very positive steps for small businesses in their interactions with Fairfax County staff. Consistency in the inspection process will assist all business development and operations. The opportunity to provide feedback on an inspection or inspector will benefit all parties.

Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department is to be commended for adopting these commonsense procedures to help businesses and promote public safety. Please take a minute and thank Battalion Chief John L. Walser, Fire Prevention Services, FCR&RD for making these reforms. He can be emailed at