A modest investment for state’s fire safety

It’s an open secret that delays in fire safety inspections are slowing down the completion of construction projects all across the state. And as everyone knows, time is money.
Following The Station nightclub fire, the state did the right thing in implementing more stringent fire codes. But according to R.I. Fire Marshal George Farrell, only 14 of the 20 fire inspector positions are currently filled. Why?
Mr. Farrell notes that the starting salary for a state fire safety inspector is $26,000 and it tops out at just over $30,000, which is roughly the state’s median wage. But the starting salary for a firefighter in Central Falls, one of the state’s poorest municipalities, is $35,889.
Do the math. The salary makes it difficult to attract candidates to apply and to keep those who are hired.
The state budget is overflowing with red ink, as the governor’s recent State of the State address made abundantly clear. But do we really want the people charged with determining how safe our public spaces are making less than the state’s median wage?
A little back of the envelope calculation may focus our vision.
Assuming that all the state’s fire inspectors earn the maximum of $31,000, it would cost an extra $186,000 to hire the full complement.
But if the wages were raised modestly to $40,000 per year, in the hope of holding on to the talent the state develops (and needs), the total additional bill would be $366,000, or 5 one-thousandths of 1 percent of the state’s $7 billion budget.
As a matter of public safety, as well as an investment in the state’s economic vitality, this is one outlay of cash the state should be making.

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