Woodford County’s building inspector talks about work, life
Florida native Joshua Stevens says he had many ideas about what he might want to do for a living. His aspirations varied at different stages of his life. “It went from marine biologist to veterinarian to I wanted to work in … a museum … and then it became firefighting,” says Stevens, who earned a two-year fire/rescue science degree at Bluegrass Community & Technical College. “And then the next thing I knew I was a building inspector.” Stevens started working here last June 17 after gaining experience (about a year and a half) as a building inspector with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. He began his career working for the state, reviewing residential and commercial plans for several months in Louisville. “So a lot of what I know came from … riding around with guys (who had) a lot more time and experience than me. And actually getting hands-on time to see things,” says Stevens. “It’s a little different when you read in a book ‘what a header is’ (an opening above a door frame that transfers the load) … compared to when you actually go into the field and see it installed.” Before working for the state, most of his experience related to how residential and commercial structures are built came while learning to become a firefighter, Stevens says. So he understands how proper construction methods can help stop the spread of a house fire. “If I do my job correctly (as the building inspector),” Stevens says, “then you should have enough time to get out. And it should be, hopefully, safer for the guys who have to go in and fight it.” Being hired as Woodford County’s building inspector was an opportunity for Stevens to work out of a courthouse office “a mile from his house,” he says. Because of the large number of builders and other people he sees every day, “you’ll have to build with me a couple times before I really get to know you.” He says that’s the result of going from job site to job site and keeping an eye on several different jobs at once. Stevens says he typically spends five hours a day in the field and doesn’t expect a builder to know everything. As building inspector, it’s his responsibility to “trouble shoot” and inform a builder about what needs to happen during construction to meet the building code, he says. “There’s a lot of things that I can see on a plan and there are a lot of things that I can see in the field, and sometimes those don’t translate – especially when you’re talking remodels …” says Stevens. He then must work “on the fly in the field” with a builder to find a different way to proceed with construction while still meeting code. Being able to show what the state building code requires of a builder and having a willingness to listen often alleviates any problems that may arise during construction, according to Stevens. “They’re more willing to work with you to come up with a solution than they would be,” he says. Working with homeowners trying to save money by doing an addition themselves has its own challenges because the building inspector can only do so much to help them. “But at the end of the day, I can’t design it for you and I can’t build it for you,” says Stevens. He and his family moved to Versailles about 10 years ago after living in Lexington and Frankfort. He appreciates living in a small town where he doesn’t have “to deal with crazy traffic,” “but in 10 minutes I can be anywhere I want to be, which is great.” Raising four children with his wife, Mariela, keeps Stevens busy away from work, as does his service (nearly five years) in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He hasn’t been deployed overseas, but describes his work as a 12 Charlie bridge crewmember as “pretty cool.” “We call our DSB, which is our dry support bridge, we call it Megatron, because it looks like a big Transformer,” says Stevens. “You drive this truck, and then this bridge just folds out on the back of it, and you can put it over dry gaps. You’re talking 50-meter, 70-meter bridges that just fold off the back of trucks.” Stevens says he always wanted to join the military, but promised his mom he’d go to college. After earning his associate’s degree, he got married and had kids, so he put off military service again. Unwavered and determined, he finally joined the National Guard at age 25. “Anybody who looks back on their life always can think of different things that they would change about it. But when you’ve got a wife and kids, it’s kind of like I wouldn’t want to change anything from that aspect. So I’m pretty fine where I ended up,” says Stevens, 30.