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Firefighter Bob Anthony tests the effectiveness of the department's ladder at Beasley Hall on the SBU campus. Regular tests are part of the department's goal to meet codes put forth by the Fire Inspection and Code Enforcement Handbook.  

Amidst stacks of papers and notes, Bolivar City Fire Department Chief Jim Ludden has a huge book sitting in the center of his desk.

That book —The Fire Inspection and Code Enforcement Handbook — is the heart of Ludden's plan for the department and the city over the next 20 years.

"What is my ultimate best picture in 20 years? To have reduced risk in Bolivar by being preventative in nature and creating a safer community," Ludden said.

He believes his department can accomplish this goal by having every building, old and new, meet the standards set forth by this fire code.

"I would rather work slowly and do the process right rather than rush into something and fail," Ludden said.

New construction  

Ludden said the city and the department have already made positive steps toward reaching this goal.

He commended city leaders for adopting the fire code in the first place and examining how to enforce its standards in new construction.

Currently, Ludden is completing all inspections on new businesses himself.

He said the city has made huge head way on ensuring every new construction within city limits meets the adopted code, giving the new buildings at Aldrich Creek and Citizens Memorial Hospital as examples.

"CMH has been fantastic, and I've spent several hours already today out inspecting the new buildings at Aldrich Creek," Ludden said.

Code enforcement officer

During the March 22 board of alderman meeting, the board unanimously approved for the department to apply for a $25,000 fire prevention micro-grant to help create an inspection program for the city.    

"The micro-grant will pay the partial wages of a new code enforcement officer," Ludden said.

He said the city's current building inspector, Kyle Lee, would work closely with the new code enforcement officer.  

"The addition of Kyle Lee (as building inspector) has been amazing," Ludden said. "He does phenomenally well and has been a huge help to me to develop the fire side of things."  

Existing construction

Ludden said that while the city and department have been quite successful in code enforcement for new construction, he hopes over the next 20 years to bring every existing commercial building in Bolivar up to code.

"The fire code calls for (compliance from) not only new structures, but also existing buildings," Ludden said. "There's hesitation on (moving forward with) existing, non-compliant buildings."

Ludden said members of the community have a "standard expectation of safety."  

"When I walk into a building and there's a smoke detector, then I believe that smoke detector should work," Ludden said. "If I walk in and there's an exit sign on the wall and a smoke detector there, when the lights go out, the exit light should turn on and I should be able to use the extinguisher. If no one is monitoring that and no one's helping manage that, then it often gets forgotten."

Ludden said one step would be the implementation of sprinkler systems in certain commercial buildings, particularly those housing potentially explosive chemicals.

While this goal is on a large scale, Ludden also hopes the department can help individual families in personal residences stay safe.

He gave the example of a family in town that had the department install fire alarms in a home. He said within a year, the home caught on fire and the alarms alerted the family, which was able to escape unharmed.   

"We are already seeing the positive impact, and quite frankly, potentially saved lives, in the short term," Ludden said. "Imagine what the long-term picture is going to look like."

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