by Brian J. O’Connor (Winter 2017)
Fire chiefs have a relatively new tool to remedy unsafe buildings, structures or premises within a fire protection district. The new tools include issuing an order to remediate the problems on and also to vacate a premises, as well as to seek the assistance of the county state’s attorney and courts for enforcement of the chief’s orders. This new authority is contained in Section 11l of the Fire Protection District Act (70 ILCS 705/11l) which was added by Pubic Act 99-0811 and became effective August 15, 2016.
As a refresher, but relevant to this new authority, Section 9 of the Fire Investigation Act (425 ILCS 25/9) provides that no owner, occupant or lessee of any building or other structure shall permit such building or structure to become especially liable to fire or to cause injury or damage by collapsing by reason of faulty construction, age, lack of proper repair, or any other cause, or to keep or maintain on such premises combustible or explosive materials or inflammable conditions which endanger the safety of the buildings, structures or premises.
Section 9 continues to provide that fire chiefs, who are charged with the duty of investigating fires, are required to inspect and examine buildings, structures or premises and if a dangerous condition or fire hazard is found to exist, shall order the dangerous condition removed or remedied, and shall so notify the owner, occupant or other person interested in the premises.
The new Section 11l clarifies and simplifies the enforcement and notice provisions to aid in compliance. Four subsections are most relevant.
Section 11l(a) provides the chief express authority to enforce the Fire Investigation Act including duties prescribed under Section 9 of that Act. The authority was included in Section 9 but is now expressly included in Section 11l(a).
Section 11l(b) clarifies and simplifies enforcement of remediation efforts. It provides that if a chief determines that a dangerous condition or fire hazard is found in or on premises, then the chief shall order the dangerous condition or fire hazard removed or remedied and notify the owner, occupant, or other interested person in the premises. The notice provisions are clarified. Section 11l(b) provides that notice to the owner may be made in person or by registered or certified mail. This is similar to notice provisions of Section 9. However, Section 11l(b) adds that if the owner cannot be located, then the chief may post the order on the premises where the dangerous condition or fire hazard exists.
Section 11l(c) adds that if the chief determines that the dangerous condition or fire hazard places persons occupying or present in or on the premises at risk of imminent bodily injury or serious harm, then the chief may order that the premises be immediately vacated and not be occupied until the chief inspects the premises. This order to vacate would be included as part of the order to remediate issued under Section 11l(b). The order to vacate remains in effect, and the premises shall not be occupied until the chief re-inspects the site and issues a notice that the dangerous condition or fire hazard has been remedied (corrected or removed) and that the premises may again be occupied.
Finally, Section 11l(d) provides that the chief may seek the assistance of the state’s attorney to obtain a court order requiring compliance should the owner of the premises fail to comply with a chief’s order to remediate issued under Section 11l(b) or a chief’s order to vacate issued under Section 11l(c).
Hopefully, a fire chief never needs to resort to use of this new authority. Compliance inspections can confirm to the chief that owners of premises comply with building and life safety codes to avoid the presence of dangerous conditions or fire hazards. But if a routine inspection proves otherwise, now chiefs have another tool to correct dangerous conditions or fire hazards and better provide for public safety.