Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Fire Prevention Enforcement by the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal

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By Kenneth E. Wood

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) enforces State fire prevention laws and rules by conducting over 18,000 annual inspections in a variety of occupancies. The problem was that the OSFM had never conducted an evaluation of the inspection program to determine if the occupancy classifications inspected or the frequency of inspections were effective in meeting the agency's mission. The purpose of the research was to conduct an evaluation and recommend necessary policy changes.

The research questions asked were:

  1. In what occupancy classifications does the OSFM concentrate fire prevention inspections and what has been the fire experience in those occupancies?
  2. In what occupancy classifications are fires and related losses occurring or increasing in Illinois?
  3. What prior history has led to the current inspection priorities of the OSFM?
  4. Have fire agencies in other States attempted to analyze their inspection priorities and if so, what can be learned from those organizations?
  5. If fires and related losses are indicated to be low or decreasing in the occupancies inspected by the OSFM, how can it be determined if this is the result of the inspection effort or an event that would be realized in the absence of code enforcement inspections?
  6. Can the OSFM identify social or demographic factors to assist in prioritizing future fire prevention inspections?
  7. If necessary to modify the inspection priorities of the OSFM, what restraints and barriers can be identified with the change process?

Historical and evaluative research was conducted. Survey instruments were sent to other State fire agencies to determine their methods of measuring effective enforcement. Analysis of Illinois' fire experience for the past decade was conducted. Results indicated that many OSFM inspections stemmed from outdated laws, misunderstandings about the frequency and location of Illinois' fires, and exaggerated attention to infrequent, but catastrophic fires. Recommendations included (a) tailoring OSFM inspections to data from the Illinois Fire Incident Reporting System (IFIRS); (b) eliminating occupancy inspections that were based on antiquated laws and beliefs; (c) reducing inspection frequencies in occupancies that did not prove to be statistically dangerous; (d) eliminating inspections in occupancies where adequate enforcement was conducted by other agencies; and (e) redirecting OSFM inspectors into more residential-type occupancies.