Demers helped pave the way for Maine’s statewide code; now he’s the State Building Official
After lobbying for more than 30 years for Maine to adopt a statewide building code, Paul Demers not only saw that happen, he was hired to get the program off the ground. No small feat in a state that has urban areas, coastal plains, mountains and a climate that can see hurricanes and those famous Nor’easters piling a couple of feet of snow carried by blizzard winds.
Demers, hired a few months ago as Maine’s State Building Official, couldn’t be happier. “It was just incredible that I was able to take this job just as I was retiring after 21 years as the code officer for the Town of Kennebunk,” Demers said. “This is under the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and I couldn’t ask for more support than they have given me. I have a clean slate and free rein. After all these years, I get a chance to put my money where my mouth went.”
His mouth traveled throughout the state, but mostly to the capital in Augusta, for any chance to push for a statewide code. As he got more involved in local, regional and state building organizations, Demers could see that even contractors wanted to see that type of consistency. “There would be no guessing,” he said. “You wouldn’t have one code in one town, and another in that town. You would know what to expect.”
Often traveling with Demers on those trips to Augusta was Dick Lambert, who recently retired as building official for the city of Saco in Maine. They met years ago at various local conferences and soon realized they had a common mission: making the codes as uniform and safe for everyone in the state. “It was a struggle,” Lambert said of the initial forays into discussing a statewide code, made somewhat easier when the Building Officials and Code Administrators International group — of which they were a part — merged with the International Conference of Building Officials and the Southern Building Code Congress International in the late 1990s.
With a lot of towns in Maine with populations under 5,000, Lambert said there still was a lot of pushback. He credits Demers with bringing stakeholders together to help pave the way for the legislation. “Paul’s vision for the statewide code, as well as his passion for education and training of building officials, was a big factor in getting this done,” Lambert said. “And when he was president of the Maine Building Officials and Inspectors Association (MBOIA), he got to network with so many people throughout the state. He looked at it as a true public safety issue.”
Demers and Lambert took their cause on the road, traveling to any town that wanted to hear them, to put on what Lambert calls “The Paul and Dick Show.” “There are more than 400 towns in Maine, and there is a lot of difference in levels of education on building issues,” Lambert explained.
Bill Nash, senior regional manager of government relations for the International Code Council, covering the Maine area, said state officials could not have picked a better person to get the statewide code off the ground. “Paul is the perfect choice to be the first State Building Official for Maine. Paul, like I was, was a boots-on-the-ground building official in a small town,” Nash said. “Sanford, Shapleigh, South Berwick… he knows the codes and he knows the people. He has a strong desire to connect all of the different pieces of code administration and the unique ability to work closely with all of the moving parts. And he’s very passionate about life safety and making sure other building officials have what they need to keep their towns safe.”
As the new State Building Official, along with shepherding code development and other tasks, Demers is in charge of the certification and training program. Among his goals for the program are to make top-shelf training available, both online and in-person, posted in an easy-to-find, easy-to-use location and format on the State Fire Marshal’s Office website; make certification status easy to access; manage training credits accurately and comprehensively; provide a method to obtain certificates of participation for webinars that don’t provide them; and post Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code Board and Technical Advisory Group actions/rulings in an easy-to-access location.
Demers said in the past four months on the job, he’s been answering a lot of questions from officials in those small Maine towns. Instead of driving all over the state, he’s been on countless Zoom calls to explain to officials what their employees need to know about the new statewide code. “There is such a difference throughout the state,” he said. “In some of those small towns, the building official does everything and is expected to know everything. One told me he gets busy in the spring because that’s when he has to bury the people who died over the winter.”
Members of the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code Board have been invaluable, Demers said, especially helping to push for updated energy codes that could help with the state’s finicky weather patterns. “Energy cost is a huge issue in Maine,” he said. “And I’m getting feedback from a lot of builders who say they’ve been able to tell buyers that for a little more money upfront, they can save two house payments a year. That’s big.”
Demers’ other big push is for education and bringing in more youth to building departments. He knows that’s not unique to Maine; with many longtime building officials already retired and more to come in the next few years.
Ben Breadmore, town manager for the town of Holden, remembered when Demers called him to participate in the Code Council’s Emerging Leaders Membership Council. “I told him I would have to call him back; I was putting cold patch on one of our roads,” Breadmore said. “When Paul was picked for the state job, there were a lot of happy folks. We’ve had the state code for about 10 years. Before that, it was the Wild West: Everyone did their own thing.”
Breadmore, now president of MBOIA, said Demers has helped him become a better building official by involving him in groups with nationwide networks, like the Code Council. “If I have a knotty problem, I know there’s a code professional out there who has the answer,” Breadmore said. And one of those calls might be to Demers. “He’s done this; he’s been here. He’s got a lot of support from stakeholders throughout Maine. If he succeeds, we succeed. And he was doing all this anyway, so he may as well get paid for it.”
Demers said he’s proud of the leader Breadmore has become. And he sees great things in the future for the statewide code. “There is a lot to do with this program,” he said. “And I’m excited about that.”