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Richmond Heights once again has a full-time fire marshal.

The City Council eliminated that position in 2014 and instead created a part-time position in the building department called “fire safety inspector.” The position is non-union and therefore less costly, officials say.

In 2018, the position was converted from part-time to full-time, but it remained assigned to the construction department and was not subject to the collective agreement applicable to fire department employees.

Now the council has approved the creation of the position of fire safety officer in the fire department by a vote of 7:0.

Richmond Heights Inspector Rick Sumrada reported not to Fire Chief Marc Neumann but to Building Commissioner William Gallagher.

The indirect nature of reporting, unclear resources and unusual nature of the previous “fire safety officer” position have created a divide within fire services in Richmond Heights, according to Sumrada, Neumann and Mayor Kim Thomas. Thomas said in a written statement that the redesigned position will “improve coordination, reduce response time and ultimately protect lives and property.”

“This move, which represents a significant step toward centralizing fire safety efforts and streamlining operations, is a testament to our commitment to safety,” Thomas continued. “By working with our new council members, directors and union, we have made the necessary changes to ensure our city is safe to live, work, play and learn.”

“This step was long overdue and we have implemented it to ensure a safe environment for everyone.”

Sumrada told the City Council on June 25 that he appears to have been forced to take on the roles of building inspector and fire inspector, which often leads to conflicting duties. He said he has conducted 739 building inspections since 2017 and worked behind the building department’s desk, answering questions about lawn length, contractors and other matters that would not normally fall under the purview of a fire inspector.

“Fire prevention is all about research,” Sumrada said in an interview after the council meeting. “Sometimes it takes hours of research, sifting through multiple codes to figure out if something is OK or not. And when you do that and have to answer the phone about tall grass or talk to a plumber about a permit … you have to step away from your fire prevention duties.”

To maintain the fire safety certification that fire safety officers must have under state law, Sumrada said he paid for the training out of his own pocket.

He told the council that he had gotten into awkward situations in the past when working with other state and federal agencies because he was not under the control of the fire department. He said that over the course of several years, he had changed clothes in his car several times, from construction uniform to a uniform similar to a fire marshal’s uniform.

The Building Department has experienced periods when there was no building inspector and during that time Sumrada had to take on that role. Now those responsibilities are reverting back to the Building Commissioner and the Department.

“We will miss him on the Building Department,” Building Commissioner Gallagher told the City Council. “He has been the glue that has held us together over the last eight to twelve months. There were times when he was the only one on the department, and he knows the Building Department like the back of his hand, but more importantly, he knows even more about fire safety.”

“Right now, the construction department is in a good position with the recent hires and I think we will be able to continue without him. But we will continue to work with him as he sits directly across the parking lot.”