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Winston-Salem budget cuts could include fire inspectors

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.-- At the recommendation of Winston-Salem's Public Safety and Citizen's Organizational Efficiency Review Committee, the city could cut its three full-time fire inspector positions.

City leaders say the cuts would save $135,000 a year and the work load could be easily spread to fire investigators, battalion companies that already perform some inspections.

Assistant City Manager Derwick Paige said the inspectors only average 1.6 inspections a day. The average inspection he said takes less than two and a half hours.

He said that work load can be easily redistributed without hindering public safety.

"The five part-time inspectors or investigators remaining will pick up an inspection per day. We think there will be ample time for them to complete those without seeing a depreciable decrease in the level of service that the citizens have become accustomed to," said Paige.

Alex MacDonald with the Winston-Salem Professional Firefighter's Association said cutting the jobs means cutting expertise that he believes saves lives.

"You can go through fire code and each section of it is there because of a disaster. They can find a lot of dangerous things to correct before they become a problem. These guys are specialists in fire code. They are knowledgeable about it they deal with it everyday," MacDonald said.

He argues the inspections take longer and that inspectors do more education and spend more time with businesses than reflected in the statistics city leaders are sharing.

MacDonald also says giving more inspections to on-duty fire companies presents problems for business owners.

"They may start an inspection and it may take four trips to fix it because they will get called away for a medical call or a fire call.  It's a waste of that business owner's time," he said.

City leaders said because they require annual inspections instead of once every three years as mandated by the state, Winston-Salem is still providing higher levels of service, even without full-time inspectors.

The Firefighter's Association said Winston-Salem is the only major city that does not have full-time inspectors doing all inspections.

The fire inspector cuts are part of 26 proposals being recommended by the Citizens Review Committee that city council will begin debating next Monday night.