Charlotte Fire Department has backlog of 11,000 fire inspections

Fire marshal blames COVID, staff turnover as numbers mount.
Fire marshal blames COVID, staff turnover as numbers mount.
Updated: Jul. 27, 2023 at 6:30 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The City of Charlotte has a backlog of more than 11,000 fire safety inspections, records show.

WBTV began investigating the department’s fire prevention efforts – which include conducting inspections of construction sites and finished buildings – in the wake of the deadly five-alarm fire in SouthPark.

Our investigation has found the fire department does not enforce a provision of the North Carolina fire code that requires major construction sites to have a plan for preventing and responding to a fire, known as a pre-fire plan.

Records also show the department is years behind on conducting “maintenance inspections” that are required for apartments, hotels, churches and large stores. Those inspections are mandated by the state fire code and are supposed to be conducted regularly depending on the type of building.

Fire Chief Reginald Johnson acknowledged the backlog in an interview with WBTV.

“During COVID, we did have a stoppage of doing inspections in general,” he said. “Ever since the COVID restrictions were removed, we’ve been working to catch up on a lot of inspections.”

Buildings missing final safety review

Johnson said the issue has been compounded by a string of retirements and other staffing issues. He told WBTV the department has authorized overtime and is exploring hiring part-time employees to chip away at the overdue inspections.

Fire Marshal Kevin Miller said his staff has been diligently working to reduce the backlog and is prioritizing completing the oldest inspections first.

The department said it completed 65,450 mandated maintenance inspections in the fiscal years since the COVID-19 shutdown.

During the interview, WBTV Investigative Reporter David Hodges also asked about another major safety concern he found in Charlotte buildings. Records show major construction projects are allowed to open despite fire officials refusing to issue final approval.

Watch WBTV News Thursday at 6 p.m. as Hodges details the safety concerns he’s uncovered and asks Charlotte Fire leadership what they’re doing to address the issue.

WBTV started investigating fire prevention following the deadly SouthPark fire. New information revealed by WBTV shows the Charlotte Fire Department is behind.