LONG BEACH - On a rainy Friday morning, Normand Arbour was greeted by Long Beach Fire Station No. 1 firefighters at Boston's Restaurant and Sports Bar, the business he co-owns with his wife, Ellen.
Arbour watched as they came into his 90 Aquarium Way business, checking for fire extinguishers and alarm systems and shining flashlights at the ceiling to check for emergency lights.
Until recently, this work was done by one of the five civilian fire inspectors who annually inspected the more than 600 restaurants, banquet halls and other assembly facilities in the city.
But they were transferred from the Fire Prevention Bureau to the city's Building Department to save money, so Long Beach fire stations this month stepped in, taking over inspecting their portion of the more than 600 assemblies - or commercial sites where more than 50 people gather for entertainment, dining and similar activities - that were once done by civilian fire inspectors before budget cuts.
"When we lost those five, the workload that they have, the amount of inspections that we have now in our Fire Prevention Bureau, it was just too overwhelming," Fire Capt. Jim Arvizu said.
Hiring more inspectors was not an option, Deputy Fire Marshal David Zinnen said.
"I don't have the staff to complete the inspections with the budget reductions over the years," Zinnen said. "We were looking at how do we accomplish our fire inspections on the assembly occupancies and the only thing we have are our resources out in the field."
It is among several cost-saving measures undertaken by the city in recent years to balance budget deficits.
In the past five years, the Long Beach Fire Department has slashed more than $10 million from its operations, including four fire engines, a firetruck and an ambulance.
Several weeks ago, Fire Chief Mike DuRee announced a Belmont Shore fire engine was being taken out of service to save $2 million.
Also being implemented are a new paramedic service model that officials say will quicken response times and an electronic patient care reporting system that is expected to reduce time spent on paperwork by 40 percent. The switch - subject to the outcome of a two-year pilot program - means saving $1 million in the city's budget.
In the case of the inspections, it's part of the larger effort announced by city officials in November to merge fire and health plan check, permitting and inspection services into the city's Development Service Department.
The consolidation is to help streamline the process for business owners and avoid overlap by multiple departments, resulting in a 15 percent reduction in fees.
Fire officials said it made the most sense to shift those duties to local stations since they were already inspecting residential buildings.
"All of us have done inspections - done them since we were rookie firefighters," Arvizu said.
The inspections also allow firefighters to get more familiar with the businesses in their territory, so they know where valves, alarms and other devices are in a business in case of an emergency, fire officials said.
Still, it's an added responsibility to the city's fire stations, whose firefighters now have to incorporate daily inspections while being available for emergencies and other pressing calls.
Fire Station No. 1 is considered among the city's busiest, with a territory encompassing downtown, Shoreline Village, portions of the Long Beach (710) Freeway and part of the Port of Long Beach. They lend support during major events, including the Pride Festival and the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"It's a challenge to have all of those responsibilities and fit in the inspections," Arvizu said. "But we've always been trained to get it done."
Staff Writer Eric Bradley contributed to this report.