County Fire Marshall transferred (updated)

Escambia County remains “Bubba-ville USA.” WEAR TV 3 reports that last week Interim County Administrator Larry Newsom asked for the voluntary resignation of Stephen Rinaldi, county fire marshal. Sonya Daniel, public information manager, called to tell that Rinaldi has not resigned, but was instead transferred.

Apparently resignation was the county administrator’s initial intent, according to an email from Daniel. However the public safety bureau chief was out of town. When he returned on April 5, Frank Edwards and Larry Newsom met and discussed how to best use the skills Mr. Rinaldi has. They met again on April 7 and decided he would be a very good fit in training. As demonstrated in his organization and coordination of the counter-terrorism exercise at University Mall on April 7. A follow-up memo regarding his transfer to training was sent on April 8.

What was the issue? According to WEAR, because he found BeulahFest – an event that was started as fundraiser by the Beulah Volunteer Firefighters -had violated fire codes in how it set up its food service at the county-owned equestrian center. Imagine that – volunteer firefighters breaking fire codes and then getting upset that the fire marshal wouldn’t let them get away with it.

The message is clear – if you want to get around the fire codes, find a county commissioner to get rid of the person enforcing the law. That is what happened here.

Do you think Rinaldi’s replacement will enforce fire codes? Will he have to call Newsom or the county commissioners to get permission to write up a code violation? Will the county commissioners give the new fire marshal a list of businesses that they dislike and tell the marshal to target those businesses, but leave their campaign supporters alone?

It would be better if the county commission just strikes all fire codes from the books than encourage selective enforcement. At least, the BOCC should add an asterisk to those laws that are optional and only require a phone call to the right person to avoid.

We have made a public records request for the memos and reporting regarding this decision and will publish when we get them.