LEBANON, Ind. (Feb. 18, 2015) -- CBS4 took a ride with firefighters who are developing their own registry of rental properties in an effort to keep residents safe.
Lebanon Fire Chief Chuck Batts offered a front row seat to what his team, health inspectors and building inspectors are doing every week.
The group is checking out rental properties, many of which are old homes split up into apartment buildings. They're making an in-house registry to help with inspections and education year round.
"Awareness is the key," Batts said.
In just a month, two people lost their lives in Lebanon fires. One happened at an apartment in mid-December and the other on New Year's Day. In both cases, the smoke detectors in the apartments had no batteries.
"(It's) the number one mistake (we see)," Batts said.
By code, one- and two-family dwellings are not subject to inspection in Lebanon and many other cities. That means the city doesn't even know how many rental properties there are, especially those in older homes.
Instead, Batts and his team go into common areas, checking for easy-to-spot things like working smoke detectors, emergency lights and fire extinguishers.
On our trip, Batts found some properties with no violations at all. He said in a majority of cases landlords are compliant and happy to cooperate.
In one building, though, we found a much different case. In addition to a sagging ceiling and dangerous holes with exposed wiring, Batts found smoke detectors with that all-too-familiar problem.
"(Is has) no batteries," Batts said upon inspection.
The plan moving forward is to create a registry and check up on properties once a year like any other inspection. The department wants to work with landlords to educate them and tenants on fire safety.
It's an extra job for Batts and his department, but it's one they see as essential.
"We want to find a positive segue to get the information out to the community," Batts said.
If you're a renter who may have an issue with safety on your property, you should contact your city or local fire department for help. Residents of Lebanon are entitled to one free smoke detector each, available at the Lebanon Fire Department.