THE WACKY WORLD of permitting for special events has most event rental operators doing one of two things: A, striving to comply while silently cursing or, B, striving to comply while cursing aloud. We look at some of these problems and their roots in this month's “Rental Essentials” (see page 40).
But one rental pro we talked to grew so exasperated trying to comply with nonsensical regulations that he did something that most businesspeople would say is impossible: He decided he had to educate the regulators.
“I became so frustrated a few years ago that I decided to go the political route,” says David Painter, head of Chantilly Event Rentals in Chantilly, Va. “I'd tried calling the fire chief and the head of building permits in our county and basically got nowhere. So I called my local county supervisor and informed him that the process was broken and that rather than being adversaries, we should be allies. I was granted a meeting with the head of each of the permit departments — building, fire, electrical and health. I tried to get a couple of other business owners to go with me, but ended up facing them by myself.
“I sat on one side of the table and they all sat on the other and frowned at me. My whole life flashed before my eyes, and I expected the Romans to open the gates and let the ravenous lions out at any moment! Regardless, we opened a dialogue. I explained that we both have the same goal — to make certain that our clients have a safe party — and that once we accept that, then all we need to do is figure out a way to work together. It all started slowly, but as they figured out that I meant business — and that I wouldn't just go away — we began to find ways to make their lives and ours easier.”
Since then, Painter has given two one-day seminars to his fire marshals. “We start out with a PowerPoint presentation in the auditorium that I call ‘Tenting 101,’ then we go outside where I've had our crews set up a frame tent and a pole tent with a sample of every accessory we are ever likely to use at an outdoor event,” he explains. “It is often the first time that some of these inspectors have seen a tent heater or how we distribute electricity, or any number of different items. I made up an inspection checklist, and I lead them through a tent inspection and explain what they need to look for.”
Are the officials listening? “I guess so,” Painter says, “because they've indicated that they want it repeated every two years. It actually counts as continuing education for them!”