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Is your place safe?
That’s the same question Lieutenant David Stilwell of the City of Radford Fire and Rescue Department asks every time he steps inside someone’s home or apartment. Stilwell has served the Radford community for 11 years and primarily works as a fire and rental inspector for the city. He’s inspected countless off-campus apartments and houses for safety issues. He makes sure apartment or rental homes meet the city’s regulations.
“We check for everything,” Stilwell, who has two other fire inspectors working under him, said. “We have to make sure that everything is safe before we certify that it’s legal for someone to live there.”
Smoke detectors have to be in place and be operational. He also checks the carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working properly.
Carbon monoxide detectors are an essential safety component to any dwelling, because carbon monoxide gas is often called a ‘silent killer’. If there’s a CO leak and no operational detector, occupants could be slowly poisoned by a highly toxic gas that’s odorless, colorless and virtually undetectable except by CO detectors. Every year there are thousands of reports nationwide of carbon monoxide leaks in homes and apartments, where entire families of otherwise healthy residents fall asleep and never wake up. Indeed, faulty carbon monoxide readers and leaks are sometimes to blame.
Besides smoke and CO detectors, Stilwell and the fire inspectors check for plumbing and electrical issues. Stilwell said they also inspect the outside of the apartment complex and/or house, even checking the paint on the outside.
Stilwell said that although there is a massive amount of rules and regulations that all realtors must follow to ensure the safety of their residents, there aren’t any real ‘repeat offenders’ as far as off-campus apartments are concerned.
“The off-campus apartments are usually pretty good about safety; it’s usually older apartment complexes and older housing where we run into problems with safety,” Stilwell said. “One of things we have to look for, wherever we go, is we have to look at how the property is being used. We’ve run into some problems where occupants were using basements and other rooms for, should we say, ‘extracurricular activities,’ which I’m sure many students are familiar with.”
Stilwell also mentioned that another issue he runs into is what he calls ‘unauthorized bedrooms,’ where residents will turn an attic into a bedroom. Stilwell said too much clutter or too many occupants could pose a major fire safety hazard to all the occupants of an apartment or rental house.
Another fire safety hazard Stilwell pointed out was a ‘blocked means of egress,’ or a blocked exit. Blocked exits are a fire hazard, because in any unsafe situation a resident wants as many points of exit as possible. Eliminating one or more points of exit can limit a resident’s chance of survival in a fire or other emergency situation.
Oftentimes, Stilwell and his department notify the realtor, who then notifies the residents of the apartment complex that city inspectors will come by to perform fire and rental inspections. Another form of inspection is when Stilwell works what’s called ‘complaint,’ when a resident or tenant actually calls his office directly and requests that an inspector come out and look at a potential safety issue. Stilwell said that maintaining the safety of all occupants, whether the department arranges the inspection or the resident requests it, is always the top priority.