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Inspector Gotcha at work in Vandalia

Last night we heard both Presidential candidates talk about being pro-small business.

What we needed to hear was that if either was elected, “Inspector Gotcha” [1] would be put on America’s Most Wanted List and hunted like Bin Laden.

Thanks to Vandalia, we get to see another prime example of stupidity in power:

One building code issue remains unresolved between the city and the new Scene 75 [2] entertainment complex on Poe Ave. near Wyse Rd. next to Interstate 75.

The city says the fire alarm system isn’t loud enough. Scene 75 owners say it meets code, especially since it is teamed with a visual system.

Until the issue is resolved, an occupancy permit will not be issued and the building will continue to operate under a temporary permit.“We think we’re in compliance,” said Les Sandler, part of the ownership group of Scene 75, which opened in early July. “We have two systems, a sound system and a sight system. The place lights up when the system goes off.

“We’re continuing dialogue with the city. We’ll get past this.”Vandalia building inspector Ted Baker informed the city council in a work session this week the sound system for the alarm is not enough, especially on weekends when 1,000 or more people are in the building, which contains a restaurant, bar and snack areas and several entertainment venues such as go-karts, miniature golf and a 4-D theatre.

“The system designed on paper met code,” said Vandalia building inspector Ted Baker, “but it didn’t pass muster when it went into the field.

”Because of that, Scene 75 has been granted three occupancy extensions as long as firemen are on the scene as a temporary measure in what is called a “fire watch” in case there are problems.

via City, Scene 75 in dispute over fire alarm system | www.daytondailynews.com [3].

Let’s be absolutely clear- the system meets code. However, if there is a fire, Inspector Gotcha doesn’t think’s that Scene 75’s patrons will be able to hear the alarm and will stand around, despite the lights all coming on, sirens going- and continue to play their games as if nothing is going on. Employees, who have been trained on evacuation techniques and procedures, will also stand around either mute, or will high tail it out, leaving the video gamers and go-cart drivers to fry into crispy critters because, well- the sirens aren’t loud enough.

This has caused the owners of Scene 75, or the citizens of Vandalia to pay to have firemen on the scene while Scene 75 is open (over 3 months) and frustrate and hassle a new small business that has more important things to focus on.

While I’m sure Inspector Gotcha thinks he is doing his job, this isn’t the seventies or the Beverly Hills Supper Club [4]. The risk to the owners of Scene 75 of not having a system and procedures to evacuate a building in case of a fire is clear and they have met code. It’s time to stop Inspector Gotcha from rewriting the laws on the spot. If government bureaucrats had their livelihood on the line and had to take responsibility for their actions, we wouldn’t see this kind of pedantic, capricious behavior.

This is the kind of over-regulation small business really worries about, and the kind that Wall Street Banks aren’t.

Fire Inspector Gotcha now- and let Scene 75 have their occupancy permit.

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“The risk to the owners of Scene 75” the risk isn’t to the owners its to the customers.  They should just get it fixed like any other business would have to. 

william herrick

@ clayton Exactly how do you fix an alarm system that is in code; works exactly to the manufacturer’s specifications, and has been properly installed? If you crank the decibel levels of the alarm you bump into Federal OSHA specifications on the upper limits allowed for alert devices.


@william Thats impossible to answer without knowing the current decibel level and the decibel level that Ted Baker wants it at. It’s not really insane to think that 1,300 combined with the noise that a scene 75 type business makes would require a little more than the bare minimum.


On the night of the Beverly Hills fire, I was working at the nearest hospital.  The day shift came in and any of us young men left our regular stations and went to the ER to bear litter (which, after the adrenaline wears off, turns out to be exhausting),  They told us to expect around 160, but after the first 80 the influx suddenly stopped; I still remember ther sinking feeling.  I lost a friend and a teacher that night.  It took weeks to sort through the corpses and get them all properly identified.  Almost everyone in the region knew someone who died.

So you might forgive me if I take the “this ain’t Beverly Hills” comment in a different light.  Maybe it’s not Beverly Hills because of people like inspector Gotcha.  Unless one of us has expertise in the subject of alarm systems, I’d prefer that the issue be left to take its course and not be decided in the kangaroo court of public opinion.

The inspector maybe does err on the side of over-caution.  The authorities in Southgate Kentucky erred on the side of too little caution.  Opinions vary, but every time the subject comes up, I wish fervently for error on the side of too much safety, rather than too little.

And BTW, I note that I have managed, happily, to avoid being caught in potential disasters.  The one time I was in Beverly Hills, it impressed me as a fire trap and I determined not to go back.  I quit going to rock concerts at Riverfront Stadium around 1977, convinced there was inadequate management–only months before the Who concert stampede.  And for now, I’m not even tempted to patronize Scene 75.  Make of it what you will. 


Here’s a pretty simple solution:

Link the fire system with the sound system. When the fire alarms activate (sound), the sound system (music) turns OFF. An electrical relay should be all that’s needed. 


Is the testing required to “pass muster in the field” well defined or is this just Mr Baker’s opinion?  Did the inspector follow certified, or at least well documented test procedures using properly calibrated equipment to determine that the system as installed in this particular environment was insufficient?  Who funds the “fire watch”?  The DDN article doesn’t provide enough info to determine if this is a case of Inspector Gotcha on a power trip or Sleazy Bizness cutting corners. 

Donald Phillips

For those of who are unaware, Mr. Esrati is as Operating Thetan III Scientologist, which means he is omnicient and immortal. So don’t argue with him! He knows everything!

Bill Davidson

I think you jumped the gun on this one David.  I’m friends with a Vandalia employee familiar with this issue.  Here is how it was explained to me.  The issue is about how loud the fire alarm is in comparison to the noise made by the people and the games, etc…  If you can’t hear a fire alarm over noise, what good is it?  I found this posted by another Facebooker http://tinypic.com/r/2buuli/6  Speaks for itself.  I think. 


It’s a shame that the newspaper article didn’t include details like that. I have a feeling that the city of Vandalia will quickly approve it now.

Bill Davidson

David, you’ve not presented a ‘case’, you’ve presented the words and generalizations of a business owner with inherent bias.
If you are interested in providing an objective perspective of the circumstance, I suggest you query both parties and request responses based upon facts and numbers, substantiated by code references. Otherwise, any reader with a modicum of logic will likely discount your assertions as ignorant and biased.
You stated, ‘I still believe, in the case of a real fire, with sprinklers going off, people seeing a fire- the staff would assist people in leaving the building. A louder alarm does nothing.’ What does your opinion have to do with the code regulating the business in question? I’ve read your blog and notice you sorely reference and report about politicians and business owners bending the law and yet, in this case, you’re defending a business for doing so. Which way do you want it David?
I think it’s time to take off your victim hat and strap on your objectivity glasses. I can’t bear to watch you cast another stone of criticism toward the Dayton Daily News while defiantly living within your glass house of journalistic integrity.

I rest my case. 


It seems as though there is a contradiction between what an employee says and what the owner says in regards to the sound system and the alarm system being linked…

Bill Davidson

I just spoke to my friend.  The system does not pass practical testing.  The system was designed to overcome the ambient noise level of the environment, but does not.  Therefore, the system does not meet code.  Your example of dismantling the tornado siren because it is ineffective substantiates the reasoning why the fire alarm is not code compliant.  If a tornado siren or fire alarm system cannot overcome ambient noise, the warning system is useless.

Perhaps, you can call Ted Baker and ask him to scientifically describe why the system does not meet code instead of making an assumption the building official is wrong because you’ve had negative experiences with building officials in the past?

Oh, and David, your bias and lack of objectivity is showing.  I heard the Dayton Daily News is hiring.    


Damn, I’ve posted (2) comments — from my phone — and neither end up showing up….

Is the alarm system and the sound system really linked or not ? The owner says it is. The employee and presumably the inspector say it’s not. 

Donald Phillips

Mr. Esrati and the rest of Dayton’s liberatti believe that the building code doesn’t apply to them. This is a reprise of a perennial bee in Mr. Esrati’s athletic supporter. He wailed similar woes when the Wympee building was undergoing defilement. I believe that the owners of Olive: An Urban “Dive” rewarded his advocacy with a coupon with an additional glass of mineral water; or was it a free order of artisinal bread sticks?


Sorry David, but yes, “practical testing” could and should be part of the code. You can’t document or put in writing everything and have it apply accurately in the real world.


Yes, David, fires in places like this are rare.  And when they do happen, hundreds die.  As we saw at Beverly Hills, at the World Trade Center, at the Station, at the Rhythm Club, at Coconut Grove, pulling a fire alarm and telling people to get out is inadequate–especially if proper construction and safety codes were not enforced.  At Beverly Hills, the owners were so clueless that they didn’t get their electrical work inspected (the fire started due to improper wiring, aluminum wire on copper-only outlets), and they had chained shut several exit doors (to prevent people sneaking in without paying admission).

I don’t doubt that codes are sometimes ridiculous (particularly the cosmetic ones) and that building inspectors are sometimes wrong–or even corrupt. But most of them, I’d say, are honest people trying to do a public service correctly.  I guess your world is far less trusting than mine.  I wonder why?

You are taking one side here without full information.  Let it go to court if that’s the only way to arbitrate the conflict, and if the city of Vandalia winds up paying a huge settlement I’d consider it a better use of the money than, say, tax incentives.  At least it’s going to an attempt to maintain safety. 

Bill Davidson

David, I’m stating facts based upon evidence and conveying thoughts rooted in logic, while suggesting ways you may improve upon your methods of communication if you intend to be taken seriously as a politician.  Your slurry of opinions and wildly hypothetical assertions, so obviously dripping with the essence of those whom have wronged you in the past, are getting tiresome.  In your campaign video you advocate the regulation of banks, demanding they maintain the houses they have foreclosed upon.  Yet, you publicly lambast a municipality for regulating a business using codified ordinance in the interest of public safety without even a fleeting consideration of each perspective.  The hypocrisy is appalling.

Again, if you do not believe in the concept of ‘practical testing’, query Ted Baker and ask him to explain the circumstance from the City’s perspective.  You asked for the business owner’s perspective, why haven’t you requested and publicly published a rebuttal?

For the record, my Dayton Daily News comment was levied facetiously.  


I am a credentialed, degreed occupational health & safety professional. Many of the “Inspector Gotcha” examples you have mentioned over time are directly related to preserving life (re: electrical and fire codes). Are some seemingly arbitrary? Of course. In a recent home addition project, the former building inspector initially told us that the exterior glass french doors could not be calculated into the minimum window area requirements. After a short “are you kidding” discussion, he signed off. We all have this lapse in judgement at times – you just put yours out there in writing more often than the rest of us.

I have an in-law that perished in the Beverly Hills fire. I have a friend who is a substantial investor in Scene 75. I live in Vandalia. If the city says the alarm is not adequate for the safety of the public, I’ll take their word for it. It’s an easy fix – ensure the music system shuts down when the alarm signals, ensure the alarm is of sufficient volume to be clearly heard over ambient noise (the crowd) and train your employees on proper evacuation.


And this is another “cause” that David has made up his mind about and won’t change, come hell or high water…

Bill Davidson

David, are you going to submit an inquiry to the City or continue digging your heels in while reiterating your ignorant and biased position?

Do you think you’ll exhaust the objective minds reading your blog by employing your brute force method of debate?

Don’t continue publically scrutinizing private matters if you’re not going to take all positions into account.  It’s irresponsible and a contributing factor to the polarization of our country’s people.   


I used to love Jarts. 


If I read correctly…     the audible alarm is very loud, but not loud enough to be heard over all the other ambient crowd noise.  BUT if the alarm were made any louder, it would violate OSHA standards.   It’s not loud enough, but it’s as loud as it can be legally.   Is that what I read?   So we have a Catch 22  — a dead end.   That’s a vexing problem!


David, do you know what the decibel level of the alarm is? I have seen several claims that increasing the decibel level would violate OSHA’s (hearing conservation) standard, but have not yet seen any data to support that. I’m curious to know.


Hmmm, does the OSHA noise level regulation only apply to alarms or does it apply to all ambient noise ? If so, it would appear that the music and other entertainment-related “sounds” are in violation of OSHA rules.