ICC Members: The individuals behind codes and safety — Robert Kurtz
Code professionals ensure building safety today, for a stronger tomorrow. As the individuals behind modern codes and standards, these professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety and compliance of codes and standards, shaping the safety of the world around us, and serve as the safety foundation for our buildings. They don’t just ensure that buildings are constructed to withstand the stress of everyday use, they are behind the security and stability of every building. They specialize in preventative measures to help communities weather unforeseen natural disasters and ensure that first responders have less to worry about and can do their jobs safely. Code professionals are an essential piece in the building and construction puzzle and are engaged in the building process from the initial building plan to the finished product.
The International Code Council is a member-focused association with over 64,000 members dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. They protect the public through their commitment to building safety; enforce code compliance to empower and educate stakeholders across the built environment to embrace and integrate safety standards in their work; support economic development by making our buildings sturdier, and therefore longer lasting. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities impact every building, in every community.
The Code Council recognizes the importance of continuing to grow awareness of the important work that code professionals do and the impact they have, in the hopes of encouraging aspiring building safety professionals to join in on the building safety movement. In this exclusive feature for the Building Safety Journal, we asked Robert Kurtz to share his experience in the industry, highlights of his professional career, and any insights or advice he has concerning the industry and the future of building safety.
Chief Building Official
Sandusky County Building Department
Fremont, Ohio, United States
International Code Council member for 18 years
ICC Region V / Ohio Building Officials Association
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in building safety?
Kurtz: I began my journey 38 years ago. For the first 17 years, as a general contractor, I was always interested in the building codes and the importance the codes played in ensuring buildings were constructed safely for all. One day, I stopped at a local building department to apply for a permit. While there, the permit tech told me they had an opening for an inspector and she encouraged me to apply. I did, and that was the beginning of my code enforcement career.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this industry and in your profession?
Kurtz: There are many attributes you need to be successful in this profession, as in any profession. The first thing you need is an eagerness to learn. The codes are always being updated and you have to be willing to stay up-to-date. Don’t ever settle for the status quo and always work to improve yourself with additional certifications. The second attribute you need is to have respect. Be respectful and responsive with everyone; whether it’s a co-worker, property or business owner, contractor, etc. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. You’re a professional, so be professional. The third important attribute is patience. Understand the problem before reacting or responding. Most issues are nothing more than a misunderstanding or lack of information. Use these opportunities to help educate others.
BSJ: What role have mentors, advisors or your network played in your career?
Kurtz: When I was just starting out my mentors helped me understand the nuts and bolts of the code enforcement process, but the mentors that had the most influence on me were actually the inspectors I worked with when I was a contractor. Most were very good inspectors, but there were one or two ‘bad ones’ and I learned very quickly what type of inspector I was going to be.
BSJ: What led you to become an ICC member?
Kurtz: ICC is the leader in this industry and everyone in code enforcement needs to take advantage of the opportunities. First and foremost, I became involved in ICC for its certification offerings. Whether you work in a state that requires certification or not, holding an ICC certification demonstrates your commitment to understanding the codes to ensure proper enforcement. In addition, the continuing education classes, product evaluation reports, and code profession information and news they provide is invaluable.
BSJ: Are you involved in any ICC committees or councils? Do you have any ICC certifications?
Kurtz: I am not currently involved in any ICC committees or councils, but I would like to serve on a committee and will be pursuing this further. Currently, I have the following ICC certifications: Certified Building Official (CB), Residential Building Inspector (B1), Commercial Building Inspector (B2) and the Building Inspector (B5).
BSJ: How long have you been in the industry?
Kurtz: Twenty-one years.
BSJ: What major changes have you seen?
Kurtz: The growth of ICC and the adoption of the residential code in the state of Ohio are major changes I’ve seen. When I first started in this industry, BOCA was the building code that was enforced. The International Codes helped unify the codes and ICC is now the backbone of the industry. The adoption of the residential code in Ohio provided for uniformity and consistent enforcement throughout the state. Prior to the adoption, residential code enforcement was like the ‘wild west’ and codes could vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
BSJ: What excites you about the future of your industry?
Kurtz: Technology. The advances in technology are allowing our work to be performed quicker, easier and more thoroughly. Construction documents can now be submitted, reviewed, approved and pulled up on a job site electronically making the process easier and quicker in most cases. Inspections can now be performed on electronic devices, with the ability to attach photos and email them immediately to the property owner and/or contractor. Drones and other devices are enabling more thorough inspections of areas that might otherwise have been inaccessible.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the industry?
Kurtz: One piece of advice I would give to someone starting out in the industry would be to be a professional and be courteous. We’re here to help, not hinder. People do appreciate it when you help them understand the process, codes, etc. Be a teacher and help educate. Explain the code requirements, but know your audience and explain it in a manner they will understand. When you find something inconsistent with the codes while doing a plan review or inspection it’s usually because the person just didn’t know. Use these opportunities to help educate.
BSJ: What do you see as most surprising about the work that you do?
Kurtz: What I see as most surprising about the work I do is all the wonderful relationships it helps build over the years with community leaders, contractors, business owners and homeowners. I’ve always acted in a professional manner and treated everyone with respect, and the respect is returned. People truly appreciate the help you give.
BSJ: What would you like to do next in your professional/personal life?
Kurtz: In addition to serving on an ICC committee, I am pursuing additional certifications with the ultimate goal of becoming a Master Code Professional.
BSJ: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Kurtz: In my leisure time I enjoy working out, golfing, traveling and Ohio State football. My wife and I travel a few times a year and for Christmas, our ‘gift to each other’ is going to whatever bowl the Buckeyes are playing in that year. All of our kids have graduated college and have careers, but at least once a year we all still go on a family vacation together and enjoy the new memories we make.
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be?
Kurtz: Another Day in Paradise!
There’s a world of opportunity in being a member of the International Code Council. Membership provides the tools to get the most out of each workday: from discounts on essential International Codes and other publications to the best prices on top-quality training and ICC certification renewals, Code Council membership helps budgets go further. Exclusive member benefits include code advice from expert technical staff as well as access to member-exclusive news and articles at the Building Safety Journal news portal. Plus, only Code Council members vote in the ICC code development process. An online Career Center allows job postings and searches for new job opportunities — all at no additional charge.
The Code Council offers numerous councils, committees, and resources to help code professionals grow and network with colleagues. Six discipline-specific Membership Councils offer members a place to come together and be a more powerful force in shaping your association, your industry, your career, and your future. Code Development Committees are an instrumental part of the ICC code development process and are responsible for the review and evaluation of code change proposals submitted to the International Codes. Professional Development Committees serve to better align the ICC education programs and certification programs to ensure that quality training is available to meet the needs of all members, customers and certification holders. Finally, the Value of the Code Official toolkit helps members to heighten awareness of the importance of code officials to their communities and to highlight the code official’s role as a helpful advocate for community safety, health and welfare, and economic development.
To learn more about ICC membership, click here, or contact ICC Member Services by email or 888-ICC-SAFE (888-422-7233) ext. 33804.