FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What authority does the County have to conduct Fire Inspections?
Bexar County Fire Marshal's Office conducts fire/safety inspections based on a Fire Code requirement that all commercial, public accessible, and multi-family residential buildings be maintained in a fire safe condition. The state law that provides authority to the County to conduct inspections is the LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE CHAPTER 352. COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION, 352.016(b). INSPECTION OR REVIEW OF PLAN FOR FIRE OR LIFE SAFETY HAZARDS.
Why does the County conduct Fire Inspections?
There are two general reasons why fire/safety inspections are conducted. (1) To ensure that any building in which the general public enters for business, entertainment, social, religious, or other purposes is maintained in a fire safe status. (2) Fire safety inspections provide the owner/occupant of the building an indication of fire/safety hazards so they may correct the hazards to reduce their liability and potential for loss due to a fire.
What is a Fire Code?
A Fire Code is a group of fire safety requirements that are developed to protect a specific type of operation, to protect the occupants of a building from fire, and to reduce the potential for a fire to start. These requirements are developed based on information gathered from around the county that have caused fires in the past. A significant amount of investigation and research is conducted to determine the actual cause of fire before an item becomes a part of the Fire Code. Once a Fire Code has been adopted by a County, it becomes the County Law that regulates fire safety. Failure to comply with the Fire Code can result in citations and fines.
The Fire Code used by Bexar County is part of a series of Codes that are designed to do two specific things: (1) to protect the lives of the people who enter, work, visit, or otherwise occupy a building, and (2) to ensure that all aspects of the construction of a building, and the operations or functions performed within a building are done in a fire safe manner.
What Fire Code does the County enforce?
Bexar County utilizes the International Fire Code as adopted by the Bexar County Commissioners Court under the authority granted by the LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE CHAPTER 233. COUNTY REGULATION OF HOUSING AND OTHER STRUCTURES. In Bexar County the International Fire Code takes precedence over any other codes normally utilized by state agencies because the State Law allows the County to enforce its code in lieu of other minimum codes.
Why does the County charge a fee for conducting a fire inspection?
The small fee that is charged for a fire inspection is to help offset the cost of having the tools, equipment, and personnel necessary to ensure fire safety in the County. Fire/Safety inspections are a vital part of the rating system that establishes the insurance rates the citizens of Bexar County pay for home and business insurance.
How often does the County conduct a fire/safety inspection?
Every effort is made to inspect all business in the County on an annual basis. While we try to inspect each year on approximately the same date, this is not always possible. Our policy is to inspect approximately one year from the last inspection, within the same month.
A Fire Inspector found a violation of the Fire Code in my building, what must I do?
If a violation is found that is a maintenance related problem, the Fire Inspector will provide a date (generally 30 days) to correct the violation. If the violation can be corrected during the inspection, it will be noted on the inspection form that the correction has already taken place.
If a violation is found that will require the alteration or installation of new equipment or safety features, the Fire Inspector will indicate this on the report, and provide a date to submit a written proposal to the Fire Marshal's Office that will include an anticipated date that you can make the necessary corrections. Each written request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of repair/installation that is needed. If the request is within a reasonable time limit, and a reasonable level of safety can be maintained, an extension to comply will generally be granted.
The Fire Inspector told me that a re-inspection is necessary, why?
A re-inspection becomes necessary when a violation is found that cannot be corrected at the time of the inspection. The reason for the re-inspection is to produce the documentation showing the violation has been corrected, and that the building is then in compliance with all applicable codes and laws.
If I fail to make corrections to a fire code violation, what happens?
Initially, the Fire Inspector will issue a Notice of Violation. The Notice will indicate a date that the violation must be corrected by. The Fire Marshal's Office will make every effort to work with the building owner/occupant to bring the building into compliance without having to take further legal action. However, if the building owner/occupant continues to resist efforts to correct a fire hazard, the owner/occupant is subject to arrest and prosecution as indicated in the LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE CHAPTER 352. COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION, 352.022. PENALTY FOR FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH ORDER.
Why am I being told I have to install a Fire Alarm System?
The requirements to install a fire alarm system are based on several factors that are found in current buildings (as well as buildings being built). These factors include the type of building classification, the number of people that can be in the building (based on maximum number of people), and size of the building.
A fire alarm system is considered a life safety system. It is designed to operate automatically when either a manual pull station is activated or when smoke is detected by a smoke detector. Upon activation, it will notify the building occupants by flashing lights and a loud sound to evacuate the building.
A fire alarm system is also one of the two most important fire protection systems that can be installed in a building to protect the contents, inventories, stock, merchandise, tools and equipment, and the lives of those people who work in the building and those who visit the building.
Why am I being told I have to install a Fire Sprinkler System?
The requirements to install a fire sprinkler system are based on several factors that are found in current buildings (as well as buildings being built). These factors include the type of building classification, size of the building, and the contents of the building.
A fire sprinkler system is considered a life safety system. It is designed to operate automatically when a certain amount of heat at the ceiling level activates a sprinkler head and causes water to flow. This water flow will either completely extinguish a fire or hold the fire from progressing further until the fire department can arrive. National Fire Protection Association statistics indicate that in almost all cases, only one or two sprinkler heads activate when a fire actually occurs.
A fire sprinkler system is also one of the two most important fire protection systems that can be installed in a building to protect the contents, inventories, stock, merchandise, tools and equipment, and the lives of those people who work or reside in the building and those who visit the building.
Contrary to the popular TV version of fire sprinklers, the activation of one sprinkler head does not cause all heads to go off and flood a building.
Is my building is "Grandfathered" from having to meet current codes?
This is a misconception or myth. There are no provisions in either the Local Government Code or the International Fire or Building Codes that allows a building to exist in an unsafe condition. The LOCAL GOVERNMENT, CODE CHAPTER 352. COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION, 352.016. INSPECTION OR REVIEW OF PLAN FOR FIRE OR LIFE SAFETY HAZARDS item (6) specifically indicates that our inspections shall look for inappropriate means of egress, fire protection, or other fire-related safeguard. Additionally, the Fire Code indicates the following:
110.1.1 Unsafe conditions. Structures or existing equipment that are or hereafter become unsafe or deficient because of inadequate means of egress or which constitute a fire hazard, or are otherwise dangerous to human life or the public welfare, or which involve illegal or improper occupancy or inadequate maintenance, shall be deemed an unsafe condition. A vacant structure which is not secured against unauthorized entry as required by Section 311 shall be deemed unsafe.
How is the occupant load for my building calculated?
The occupant load for a building is based on the number of people that can be in a specific area of a building. It uses the actual square foot of a room or area multiplied by a factor indicated in the Fire Code for that type of room use. The total occupant load for a building is calculated by adding all of the various room/area occupant loads together.
Certain types of rooms are exempt from calculation, such as a bathroom, because the bathroom would normally be occupied by someone from one of the other calculated rooms.
The occupant load indicator listed in the Fire Code is different for different types of room uses; for example, an area used for an office does not need as much room as a room where manufacturing equipment is used. The seating area of a church with fixed pews is different from the seating area of a restaurant.
My business is regulated or licensed by the State, and they use the Life Safety Code, why is the Fire Inspector telling me I have to comply with the County Fire Code?
The State of Texas uses the Life Safety Code as the minimum safety requirements that a regulated or licensed facility must comply with.
However, Local Government Code allows certain counties the ability to adopt their own Fire Code. Bexar County has adopted the International Fire Code, and this is the Fire Code that all buildings and occupancies located inside Bexar County must comply with. The State Fire Marshal's Office issued a bulletin concerning Foster Homes (No. B-0046-07) explaining this issue in detail. While the bulletin is issued concerning Foster Homes, the state law is applicable in all situations.
A majority of the requirements of the International Fire Code are similar to the Life Safety Code. The fire protection system requirements of the International Fire Code are typically more stringent or more restrictive.
Any inspection conducted under the International Fire Code will meet and/or exceed the minimum requirements that a licensed or regulated facility must comply with.
I just started a business and moved into a new building, what do I have to do?
You must obtain a Certificate of Change of Occupancy. In order to get this certificate, you must call the Fire Marshal's Office and schedule a Fire Inspection for Change of Occupancy.
An inspection is required because buildings are built based on the contents or operations to be performed inside the building. When the occupancy changes, the Fire Inspector has to check to make sure the fire protection related constructions features of the building are consistent with the new occupancy and it contents and operations. You will be advised at the time if additional fire protection systems or fire resistive construction must be added based on your operations. The fee for the inspection is $50.00, and must be paid at the time of the inspection. The Inspector will collect this fee on-site, and will give you a written receipt for the payment. If the building is found to meet the fire code for your occupancy requirements, the Certificate of Change of Occupancy will be mailed to you. If the building does not meet the specific Fire Code requirements, the Inspector will provide you with information on how to proceed from that point, and who to contact.
I want to install fuel tanks at my property, what must I do?
All fueling systems must have a permit to be installed. The fuel tanks must meet the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association and the installation of the tank(s) must be under the supervision of a Fire Inspector. Two sets of plans showing the property lines, the location of any buildings on the property, and the proposed location of the fuel tanks must be submitted for evaluation and approval by the representative that will be installing the tanks. If the tank installation meets all fire code requirements, a permit will be issued.
I believe I saw a fire code violation at a business I visited, what can I do about it?
You can call the Fire Marshal's Office (210-335-0300) and register a complaint. You can do this anonymously, but you must have the name of the business, and address and describe what you saw or what you believe was the violation. The Fire Marshal policy is to respond to complaints of this nature within 24 hours, unless there is a clearly defined life safety issue. If a life safety issue is registered, the Inspector will respond within two (2) hours.
What does the Inspector look for during an inspection?
Follow this link to a list of items the Inspector will use as part of the fire inspection of your occupancy.
Permits, Checklists & Applications
What is an "Exit" Strategy, and why is it important?
The most important thing you can do when you enter a building is to find and know the ways out!
During an emergency event, the way that you came in may not be the best way to leave! If you and your loved ones are going to survive an emergency, it is critical that you remain calm and have a "EXIT strategy" in place.