Tens of thousands of buildings and homes in Connecticut go without mandated inspections each year, violating state law, and fire marshals from around the state say there is nothing they can do about it.
Fire marshals in some of Connecticut's biggest cities admit hundreds of buildings go uninspected each year, violating state law.
In August, a multi-family house on Chapel Street collapsed and New Haven city officials sprang into action. They demolished the home and announced a city-wide crackdown on potentially dangerous buildings. But in the aftermath, there's cause for concern about the safety of other buildings in New Haven and across Connecticut.
Fire Marshal Robert Doyle says his department inspects less than half of the city's buildings in the time frame required by state law. Connecticut fire safety code mandates annual inspections for the majority of the buildings in New Haven, including schools, liquor establishments, dance clubs and residential buildings 3 families and above.
The last inspection at the Chapel Street house was in 2011.
"The state statutes are written and we have abide by them, but it's tough to do so with the amount of people any department has. I don't think there's anybody that can meet the obligation," Doyle said.
Keith Flood, President of the State Fire Marshals' Association, says 80 percent of fires are in residential buildings, and the sheer number of residences presents a dilemma in most larger communities.
Flood says a major problem is that most older multi-family structures are out of compliance at the start, and the process of inspecting, abating violations and working with the property owners is unwieldy at best.
"A lot of times it's an absentee landlord, they're out of state so that becomes another avenue we have to fight against," says Flood.
He says it could take days, weeks, of even months to bring a building up to full code compliance.
In Hartford, the problem is magnified. Fire Marshal Roger Martin says his department is supposed to inspect 10,000 multi-families and apartment buildings every year, but he says they only get to about 20 percent of them.
He says balancing the load of inspections with fire investigations and other Fire Marshal responsibilities is a game he cannot win.
"Time is not our friend, but we in the fire marshal community in the state, we work with what we have and do what we can," Martin said.
But help is on the way, Martin says his inspection staff is set to to double by the beginning of the year, using funds allocated this summer by the Hartford City Council.
Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings says recommendations from the former chiefs who sat on the Hartford Fire Department Task Force this year opened the council's eyes.
"When we're dealing with unfunded mandates, we still have to set priorities related to public safety," Jennings said.
That buy-in from City Hall is happening in New Haven as well, says Robert Doyle.
"I'm confident that within the next 6 months we will be fully staffed in our office and with that full staff, we'll be able to do twice as many inspections as we are today," Doyle said.
But Keith Flood says there are still dozens of towns where the message about this enormous public safety hazard hasn't resonated with decision makers.
"I think the offices see the importance of inspection, but I think the higher-ups need to get more boots on the ground," Flood said.