SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — The Louisiana fire marshal’s office issued not one citation last year for failure to comply with the COVID-19 guidelines issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Deputy fire marshals began responding to complaints and making the compliance visits when Edwards lifted the stay at home order in May and moved the state into Phase I of its coronavirus recovery plan.
Compliance visits are made to ensure that workers and patrons are wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing, among other things. Inspectors also check for adherence to rules governing the number of people who can be in a store, restaurant or other business or establishment at any given time.
Statewide in 2020, deputy fire marshals made more than 12,000 compliance visits, of which about 12%-13% were conducted in the Northwest Louisiana region.
Inspectors found 109 violations when they conducted the 1,605 inspections in Northwest Louisiana in 2020.
However, again, deputy fire marshals issued no citation in Northwest Louisiana or elsewhere in the state.
The governor’s proclamation allows for agencies to take several enforcement actions when non-compliance is found.
Bel, however, has always directed inspectors to “work with businesses on their non-compliance unless the non-compliance is intentional, egregious or repetitive to a point of impasse,” said Ashley Rodrigue, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office.
“The reason is because many businesses are trying to do the right thing, but not all of the guidance is clear to everyone. And, quite frankly, as it frequently changes, it’s understandable that people have a hard time keeping up with what they’re supposed to be doing and how it should be done.”
So businesses are given the opportunity to educate themselves and adjust their operations so that they comply with the COVID-19 guidelines.
As for establishments that refuse to comply, a citation is not the only course of action available.
“In the instance of the extreme situations like were just mentioned, so far, when actions were taken, they ended up being of greater consequence than a written citation and taken by agencies with oversight over those business types (ATC pulling bar permits, LDH taking restaurant permits, etc.) So those actions may potentially have longer-lasting effects beyond the pandemic,” Rodrigue explained.
The state fire marshal’s office is not the only entity inspecting for compliance with Louisiana’s COVID-19 guidelines.
The more than 12,000 compliance visits that deputy fire marshals conducted in 2020 are among a total of 16,384 coronavirus-related visits made statewide last year by Louisiana state and law enforcement agencies, the fire marshal’s office reports.
Performance outcomes for 2020 that recently were shared by State Fire Marshal Chief H. “Butch” Browning show that deputy fire marshals last year also:
- conducted about 35,000 final inspections of new commercial buildings and compliance inspections of existing commercial buildings throughout the state;
- inspected hundreds of fireworks stands and displays; and,
- responded to thousands of “impairment reports on life safety and property protection systems in commercial businesses.”
Browning praised his staffers for their performance despite responding to multiple tropical system threats, limitations arising as a result of the pandemic and taking on the new and fluid task of COVID-19 enforcement efforts.
“This past year has been one for the record books for all of us. But I’m glad to say, for the state fire marshal’s office, it’ll be a year we’ll be able to look back on with pride.”