Charleston, W.Va.-- Commercial office space in Charleston may not be as safe as possible in the event of fire, despite the fact that buildings are compliant with fire and building codes, local officials said.
That's because buildings are regulated by the building code at the time that they were built, not updated building codes.
"We can't do anything more than what the state law requires and obviously we don't want to do anything less than what the state law requires," Charleston Fire Marshall Ken Tyree said. "Anytime you have the public indoors and emergency personnel responding to a building, you have to agree to hope it's as safe as possible."
The local building commission and the local fire marshal's inspection team jointly handle building and fire and safety code inspections for all commercial office space in the city. The standards that those agencies enforce are set by the state fire marshal and then adopted by local municipalities.
Currently Charleston operates under the 2009 International Building Code, while the state recently adopted the 2012 International Building Code. Harmon said that the city would update its code before Sept. 23, when the new state code takes effect.
"We want to keep everything as current as possible here in Charleston because we want our buildings built according to those codes," Charleston building commissioner Tony Harmon said. "We want the city to grow, we want it to be safe and we want it to have buildings that are going to last for 100 years instead of being sub-standard properties."
New buildings must abide by the current building codes, but older office buildings are regulated by the building code that was in place when they were built.
The fire department inspects more than 10,000 buildings around the city. The building commission performs 50 to 75 inspections every two weeks.
"It's alarming and we try to do everything we can whenever the fire department has an inspection or an office building changes hands, we go and make sure it is as safe as it can be," Harmon said.
He said his office has more inspectors and technology than it ever had in his 21 years working at the building commission. Any time a building is renovated it must conform to the current fire codes.
"Whenever they go to renovate an existing building, if they tear out, for example, a wall and they're going to replace that wall every component within that wall which they replaced must be brought up to the codes that are presently in place," Harmon said.