“There are dead bodies behind every rule.”
This was the lesson taught to me by the volunteer fire safety inspector who used to provide the fire safety perspective at Village of Spring Valley meetings. That was until they stopped including the fire department in their communications, because fire safety was deemed incompatible with maximum profits for the developers and speculators that run the village.
“The systemic and pervasive lack of code enforcement in Ramapo and Spring Valley is a clear and present danger to the safety and well-being of our citizens. For over two years I have been documenting this lawlessness and calling on the State to intervene. For an inspector to sign off on a school with dead bolted doors, exposed wiring and extension cords across a bathroom floor, shows that we cannot trust these local officials. The evidence is clear and the time for action is now. The State must intervene to protect the health and safety of our residents, children and first responders,” said Assemblyman Zebrowski.
That was 2016.
Then came the deadly fire at Evergreen Court. Two people lost their lives, including heroic volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd. These deaths are especially troubling considering that Rockland fire officials had been essentially screaming at the state to do something before tragedy occurs. Spring Valley Concerned Citizens also wrote to the NY State Dept. of State detailing all the malfeasance of the village boards.
Now, the Secretary of State has ordered that Rockland County government shall assume administration and enforcement of State Code enforcement within the Village of Spring Valley. There was no explanation given as to why they did not heed the warnings of Assemblyman Zebrowski, Fire Chief Gordon Wren and County Exec Ed Day in 2016. It is obvious to everyone that the NY State Department of State waited until there were dead bodies. The Secretary of State, Rossana Rosado, and the Director of the Division of Building Standards and Codes, John R. Addario should be ashamed. They should be more than ashamed, they should remember the victims of the Evergreen Fire every day of their lives. There are dead bodies behind this order, just are there are behind all the rules that the village has been ignoring for years.
The local politicians are scrambling to protect their rich patrons: the developers and speculators. For example, the village is trying to get a private consultant hired to do the work. Now is not the time for complacency. We must demand that inspectors shall be full-time, professional public servants, with transparency and accountability, especially to our volunteer firefighters who risk their lives to protect ours. They must not only inspect all the existing buildings that have either not been inspected or have been given fraudulent inspections, but also the new construction, much of which is being done without adequate documentation or very different from the documents. They must also review the proposed construction still in the planning process, that the village has locked the fire safety advisors out of. Most of all, they must end the culture of “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” that has permeated the village for years. There need to be penalties, from requiring unapproved work to be broken down, to large fines, to condemnation and seizure of the worst offenders.
There are dead bodies behind this takeover order. It would be a sacrilege for the implementation to be just business as usual. We need to be vigilant to see that this gets done right.