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Code enforcement, fire 'blitz' promotes housing safety
New Castle News - 9/13/2022
Sep. 12—Dave Thompson stood on Smithfield Street Friday happily engaging in conversation with New Castle's fire chief.
The 74-year-old Thompson graciously accepted two free smoke detectors from fire Chief Mike Kobbe, who was handing them out to people with fire safety tips as part of a code enforcement "blitz" on the city's West Side.
Kobbe chanced upon Thompson and engaged him in conversation. He learned all about Thompson's remarkable military history. Thompson, who lives in a Mahoningtown apartment, revealed he is a Navy veteran and has a combat bronze star from the Vietnam War.
He was walking to a family member's house to visit, something he does daily, he said.
Kobbe's role in the morning's events was to stop and talk to people in their yards about fire safety, handing out Red Cross bags with fire safety information and provided smoke detectors to whoever needed them.
City code enforcement director Shawn Anderson and his team, meanwhile, were identifying houses and buildings in disrepair and potentially not up to city code standards and have conversations with the owners or residents.
"The whole idea is to get us into the neighborhoods and introduce ourselves to residents and businesses, with an approach to blight, fire safety and code concerns, and make sure our residents are as safe as they can be," Kobbe explained.
The effort allows residents to put faces to the names they often hear and read about, he said.
"That was one of city code enforcement's goals early on, so people know who they are talking to and ask questions of," Kobbe said.
He noted that this was the fourth such detail they've done in the city so far this year.
Anderson director, credited city council President MaryAnne Gavrile with the idea of have events where various city departments go through neighborhoods and educate the community on what code violations are, how to remedy them, and about the city's expectations.
"We tell them how code works and see what concerns people have," Anderson said. The first blitz was in the Wallace Avenue, Laurel Boulevard and Park Avenue areas of the lower North Hill, "and the individuals there seemed to love it," Anderson said, emphasizing they didn't write anyone up for code violations. One of the biggest hindrances in code enforcement is that people often don't understand what a code violation is."
The detail usually involves the police and public works departments, also, but on Friday, only code and fire participated.
"Sometimes the police go out ahead of us, and public works will go to try to patch holes when they can," Anderson said.
"If we believe a house has violations, we try to stop and talk to the people about it."
They canvassed Maohoningtown last week,"and everyone was out in force," he said.
Anderson said he finds this a more effective way to enforce code than merely citing property owners.
"The sad part for our community is, you can cite people but if they don't have the resources to remedy the problem, all you're doing is causing them to accumulate debt."
Kobbe explained that Anderson's main goal, personally, has been to address glaring housing code violations by speaking to the property owners directly to try to get them to resolve them.
The rest of Anderson's code team goes to identify issues by driving around and eyeballing them, then those addresses go back to the department to be revisited.
Kobbe said he personally identified eight such houses Friday, where code violations could be a problem.
"The whole premise was to give gentle reminders and try to avoid the citation process," he said. "The city tries not to give out citations unless there's a repeat offender."
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