Fire Department – Transfer the Responsibilities of the Fire Prevention Bureau to the Department of Buildings

Savings: $300,000

The Fire Prevention Bureau (FPB) in the Chicago Fire Department “inspects schools, institutions, and places of public assembly for compliance with the City of Chicago’s fire code.”[1]  Its inspectors mainly inspect buildings to detect the presence of fire hazards and to ensure that fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, pipes and pipe connections are in working order.  All of the inspectors are sworn CFD firefighters who graduated from the CFD’s fire academy.

Under this option, the responsibilities of FPB would be transferred to the Department of Buildings (DOB) and civilians would perform the inspections instead of sworn firefighters.  Converting the sworn firefighter positions in FPB to civilian positions would result in a savings for the City because of the more generous fringe benefits that sworn firefighters receive.  The table below shows that the average salary including fringe benefits for current FPB inspectors is almost $4,000 higher than the average compensation of current DOB inspectors.  Assuming that these civilians would be paid the same compensation as current DOB inspectors, the City would save over $300,000 if all 81 currently filled inspector positions in FPB were converted to civilian positions.

Total Employees

Total Salary

Average Salary

Average Benefits

Average Total Compensation

Inspectors in Fire Prevention Bureau (FPB)






Inspectors in Department of Buildings (DOB)






Sources and Notes

The salary list for inspectors in FPB came from the City’s personnel database and reflects data as of July 20, 2011.  The 81 employees are all the employees categorized as working in subsection 4146-Inspections in the personnel database.
The salary list for building inspectors in DOB came from the current list of employees the City posted through its data portal and includes employees in DOB with the following titles: Asst. Chief Elevator Inspector, Boiler Inspector, Building/Construction Inspector, Chief Boiler Inspector, Chief Building/Construction Inspector, Chief Construction Equipment Inspector, Chief Electrical Inspector, Chief Vent and Mechanical Equipment Inspector, Construction Equipment Inspector, Cooling Plant Inspector, Electrical Inspector, Elevator Inspector, Iron Inspector, Plumbing Inspector, Plumbing Inspector I/C, Supervising Boiling Inspector, Supervising Cooling Plant Inspector, Supervising Ventilation and Furnace Inspector, Supervisor of Electrical Inspectors, Supervising Building/Construction Inspector, and Ventilation and Furnace Inspectors.  This list reflects June 1, 2011 data.
The average benefits for FPB inspectors was based on 43 percent of salary, which is what the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Management has estimated as the cost of benefits of police officers.  We assume that the pension costs of firefighters are the same as police officers given the similarity of their pension benefits.
The average benefits for building inspectors in DOB was based on 35 percent of salary, which is what the City used as an estimate for Streets and Sanitation employees in a recent arbitration regarding blue cart recycling.

Implementing this option would require amendments to the City’s current CBA with the firefighters’ union.  This agreement expires on June 30, 2012.

Discussion and Additional Questions

If the responsibilities of FPB inspectors and buildings inspectors were merged, it is likely that there would be additional savings through cross-training of inspectors, which might allow for a reduction in the total number of inspectors, resulting in savings in personnel and vehicle costs.

Proponents might argue that other cities including New York City, NY and Philadelphia, PA employ civilians to perform the same job functions currently performed by FPB inspectors, and do so for less cost in salaries, front-end training, and job benefits.  The 1999 CFD-commissioned TriData report recommended the CFD consider staffing civilians in FPB inspector positions.


Opponents might argue that FPB provides critical reports and hazard warnings for the buildings to which first responders are tasked with suppressing fires and combating other emergencies.  These opponents might say the inspectors’ work is essential to the safety of rank-and-file firefighters specifically and to the public-at-large, and requires expert training in fire science.  Therefore, firefighters are best equipped to have these skills and ensure that the information obtained by FPB is transmitted to first responders

Budget Details

Dept: Fire Department, 59 Bureau: NA
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salaries and Wages – On Payroll, 0005
The appropriation is on page 185 and the position schedule begins on page 194 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.