Richmond’s eager new fire chief working with code enforcement to tackle fire hazards

Richmond's eager new fire chief working with code enforcement to tackle city's fire hazards

This vacant city-owned property at 99 S. 47th St. in Richmond received some direly-needed landscaping last month, and for good reason.

Overgrown brush on the former Sakai Nursery site appeared unkempt, but more importantly it posed a serious fire risk given the severe drought conditions. Such a fire posed a health risk to local residents and threatened the closure of freeway lanes on U.S. Highway 80, which the property borders.

Those fears have since been assuaged, according to Tim Higares, head of the Richmond Police Department’s code enforcement, who credits an enhanced partnership between his unit and the Richmond Fire Department with putting more focus on fire hazards in the city.

While Higares says his unit has always had a good relationship with the city’s fire department, he described new Richmond fire Chief Adrian Sheppard and Deputy fire Chief Emon Usher as eager to improve the department’s fire prevention efforts. These days, meetings with the fire department’s leadership have been more frequent, Higares said.

After discussing abatement at 99 S. 47th St., Higares sought approval from city project manager Chad Smalley and the work was done over three days during the week of Aug. 17.

“We have other properties that we’re looking into,” Higares said.

And the focus isn’t just on city property. Last week, a fire hazmat crew visited a blighted commercial property at 2913 Ohio Ave. to investigate unknown chemicals in large containers, a possible code violation. While the property is listed as commercial, it is located in a residential area near the Richmond Greenway pedestrian and bicycle path.

The fire department learned about the containers after the code enforcement unit, in response to complaints from neighbors, snapped photos at the property.

“The deputy chief, Emon Usher, caught wind of it, called me, and we had a whole discussion about that operation; again, it’s one of those impromptu meetings that have been occurring,” Higares said. “He decided to send his hazmat crew out there.”

The fire department removed two 55 gallon containers of unknown chemicals, several others of lesser size and is working with the property owner to ensure the location poses no dangers to neighbors, an official said.

Higares hopes the enhanced communications will foster more successes in tackling Richmond’s hotspots for blight and public safety hazards.

“We are working and partnering together to alleviate a lot of these fire hazards throughout the city,” he said.