Misfire to fire a marshal
by Jason Collins
Jun 28, 2012 | 1972 views | 8 8 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jason Collins photo
Fire Marshal James Barrie, in the foreground, came under fire Monday as one commissioner tries to have his contract revoked. The ultimate decision was to approach the city and have them employ him full-time and provide services in the county for a fee.
Jason Collins photo Fire Marshal James Barrie, in the foreground, came under fire Monday as one commissioner tries to have his contract revoked. The ultimate decision was to approach the city and have them employ him full-time and provide services in the county for a fee.
BEE COUNTY – A commissioner calling for the firing of the county’s fire marshal Monday couldn’t get the support he needed to have him removed.

However, the court members did come to an agreement, although not unanimous, that the city should hire the fire marshal as a full-time employee and contract with the county for its handful of inspections.

Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez, the lone vote against approaching the city to have him become a full-time employee, was adamant that given recent events, the court should terminate the contract with the fire marshal.

“I am not comfortable with you (Fire Marshal James Barrie) anymore,” he said.

“We might eventually possibly be headed to a lawsuit because of these inspections that are not requested.”

At issue is whether Barrie, who is considered a contract employee for both the city and county, can charge a fee to inspect, unsolicited, businesses within the county as the fire marshal.

Barrie, at the time the county agreed to his contract, was employed by the state forestry service.

“I assumed you were going to keep that hat,” Rodriguez said. “I never imagined this was going to turn into a full-time job.”

Rodriguez reminded that the court hired Barrie with the belief that it is a part-time, as needed position, and not a full-time position.

He described the inspections Barrie says are required yearly of some businesses as “fronts” for the fees he uses to fund his office.

Barrie said that the minimal amount paid to him by the city and county doesn’t fully fund his office. Nor does it provide the funding for public education he wants to increase as part of his position.

“I feel this position is very needed, necessary position for the safety of the public,” he said of his decision to leave the state and take on the fire marshal position as a full-time job.

“Public safety is not an as needed position.”

Rodriguez was adamant that the court withdraw its contract with Barrie, saying that he was overstepping the intent of the position and the fire code.

“Just like we hired Mr. Barrie, we can hire another fire marshal,” Rodriguez said. “It is not whether we need a fire marshal or not. It is what is going on and again we can, we will hire another fire marshal if it comes to it.”

Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. said as he looked at Barrie, “Even if the county were to terminate the contract, the city still has a contract with you.”

“Eighty percent of the businesses are within the city.”

Businessman Armando Musquez, flocked by several other business owners, voiced concern over the fees charged by Barrie.

“It is not the inspections. It is not the need for the fire marshal... It is that he is walking into a business inspecting your area, some as simple as a fire extinguisher, and saying you owe me $75.

“Somebody walking into your business to do an inspection and saying you owe me money — it is just not right.”

Agreeing with Commissioner Dennis DeWitt, Musquez said that he understood many businesses require inspections.

“There is a need for a fire marshal,” Musquez said. “Some homes, like foster homes, do require inspections and that is fine.”

Assistant Fire Chief Lanny Holland spoke in favor of Barrie and the fees charged for the inspections he says ensure public safety.

“You have somebody here that is very well versed (in the codes),” Holland said. “He conducts himself very well. He also has to make a living so he charges a fee.

“Y’all need to look in your own back yard. The fire marshal ought to look at this building.

“Just walking into this building I saw a minimum of three violations of the fire code and the life safety code.”

County Judge David Silva suggested that instead of scrapping the contract, that it be modified with a fee schedule for the inspections and specific regulations of when the inspections, such as whether they have to be requested be included in the contract.

“I think we will need to change the contract...,” Silva said. “I am not sure how the court is going vote.

“My personal view is a lot of people are upset and I can see the other side as well.

“‘If requested’ is a very important part of that.”

DeWitt proposed an alternative idea — have the city fund the position full-time and work out an agreement with them to handle the few county inspections.

“I understand people’s angst when someone comes in and says, ‘You owe me a certain amount of money.’”

The idea even garnered the support of Salazar.

“I am in favor of him being a city employee vs. him being a private contractor.”

However, that support came with a caveat.

“If we can’t work out a deal with the city, then I would go with your (Rodriguez’s) motion of terminating him.”

Barrie too has previously voiced support of becoming a full-time employee instead of a private contractor.

“I would prefer that if is something the court was interested in that somebody would contact the city,” he said.

Salazar pleaded with Rodriguez to hold off on the motion to terminate Barrie until they received word back from the county attorney on the issue of whether the fire marshal can inspect businesses without a complaint or a request.

Rodriguez said, “I want to do it today and let the businesses know who supports them and who doesn’t support them.”

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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June 29, 2012
wow Sexual harassment PIMPO and RACIST DE WITT what next KKK Bill Lazenby yall city and county are messed up
June 29, 2012
You sure right! I don't remember a public apology for trying to make a county policy to stop the Tea Party (like it was not their first Amendment right) how ignorant! Nor, any support for DeWitt when that didn't pan out! Now, "Pimpo" wants to fire people if they make "him" uncomfortable? What type of "hate" is he on? This is public record, not my opinion.
June 28, 2012
jb410 Does the National Fire Code mandate that all communities must have a Fire Marshall? Furthermore, if this is mandated, is this Fire Marshall directed to establish and collect his fees as he sees fit? Are all communites regardless of size required to have a Fire Marshall? This sounds a bit self-serving to me and I seriously doubt that the National Fire Code (NFC) will mention that at all. And just what is a operational fire permit, since you mention that in reference to businesses inside the city limits?

In your first paragraph you state that Local Government Code par. 352.016 applies to unincorporated areas of the County...what par. applies to incorporated areas? If you are going to refer to the NFC, then what paragraph specifically pertains?

If I didn't know wny better I'd swear you're the Fire Marshall that deceived COunty and City Officials to appoint you to this self serving job. That's why I'm asking you these important questions since you seem to have all the answers.
June 28, 2012

The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) is simply a provider of fire code. State and local jurisdictions adopt these codes, as did the City of Beeville. NFPA does not mandate.

Are all communities required to have a fire marshal? No. There is no law stating a jurisdiction is required to create a position. Local Government Code simply states that the position 'may' be created. For the incorporated areas, Local Government Code 775.111 pertains to fire marshal inspections. This is also governed by the aforementioned adoption of the International Fire Code (IFC) by City Council.

A fire operational permit is issued to a business based on the type of business being performed. In generality, it allows the business to conduct specific operations, or type of business, as provided in Section 105.6 of the International Fire Code 2009 edition.

The people of this great City are in a time of change and transition, not because one person with a title of fire marshal. The City is growing with businesses and people from all walks of life. The City of Beeville and Bee County are at a point where it is time to come up to standards, and be proactive about the safety and growth potential that is upon us. It has nothing to do with rules or regulations that the fire marshal's office imposes upon the jurisdiction; this is State standards that are being followed.

If businesses want to help with progress of this City, work with the City to have them fund the position.

By the way, isn’t working for a living “self-serving”? You work for a benefit for yourself and family…unless you work for free. Then you're selfless act of volunteering is serving your need to help, so again it's self-serving.

Thank You.

June 28, 2012
I am glad I am not a Bee County employee! Comm. Rodriguez made it clear that if you make him "uncomfortable" your fired! County employees better watch how they act around "Pimpo"! He's a bigot to be reckoned with! Remember the "Pimpo" that wanted to pass a county ordnance so that a bunch of "DIVISIVE" white Republicans couldn't hold TEA PARTY rallies on county property! That is, until Hispanic Dems wrote in saying they were part of the TEA PARTY! Them all of a sudden he shut up! Next was that White Racist DeWitt! Then, when it was time to put up or shut up, well his record speaks for itself, once again he had to shut up! And on top of that "Pimpo" was found guilty of sexual harassment in his position of County Commissioner! His voters are proud of all these things! They've kept him! Now he wants to fire Barrie? What type of racist bigots are you voters putting into office? I know, just the type you like! The only lawsuits he needs to worry about are the ones the county is going to incur over him! This is his published record. Not my opinion!
June 28, 2012
An issue, in my view is this "fire" marshall carrying a firearm after making the statement he never knows when he may have to use it, being a Peace-Officer. Sends up red flags to me folks.

Also, did I miss something when Lanny Holland, building inspector, states that there is no one but the fire marshall to ensure the violations are meet.

Did Comm. "Pimpo" Rodriguez ever repay the taxpayers for all the expense of his being found guilty of sexual harassment in his position of County Commissioner? Not even $75 ?...

June 28, 2012
I believe that the Commissioners should cancel the contract with the fire marshall. They have mistakenly given this man the authority to gough the business owners by selling "protection". This is extortion. We have a body of people (the Commisssioners) allowing this person to charge any amount he wants to the business owners. It's nothing short of robbery. I will not allow this person to inspect my property unless he can show me a law that allows him to do that. If I am going to be charged with violating a law I have a right to know what law it is that I'm violating.
June 28, 2012

It has been pointed out numerous times what the laws are regarding these inspections. All it takes is a little research and reading to understand them for yourself. If you are in the unincorporated area of the County, search for Local Government Code 352.016 and read section (b) which states the fire marshal may inspect ANY structure...for fire and life safety. Further Local Government Code states that in the absence of a locally adopted fire code, the County defaults to the State of Texas adopted fire code, which is NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. In this code, it states that the fire code 'applies to all new and existing structures', and that the code 'shall be enforced'. And for definition of shall, it states that shall 'indicates a mandatory requirement'. And finally, there is a right to entry statute that gives the authority to enter any building to perform the inspection. This is what our State adopted as law.

IF you happen to have a business in the city limits of Beeville, they have adopted International Fire Code as of January 2011 by ordinance. This code requires operational fire permits for businesses within the jurisdiction. It also has a right to entry statute to perform the inspection.

Further, the fees collected are standardized and fair compared to other areas of comparable size. I guess business owners have a problem with following laws and having someone come and help guide them to being safer for the general public? If the fees are the issue, consider the fact that part of the fees help pay for educational programs in the schools for elementary aged children, which is currently not supported by the school budget, city budget, or County budget. It's a small fee, which is tax deductible, and helps create a safer community as well as helping our children learn about fire safety.

This is not something that will go away, especially as the City and County experience growth. The better way to help this issue is to support the position of fire marshal and have the position fully funded so it doesn't have to be funded by inspection fees.

Thank You.