The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office needs big changes to its operations to ensure that buildings, such as schools, universities and health care facilities, meet fire and safety codes, the legislative auditor said in a report issued Monday.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s recommendations have been instituted.
The auditor evaluated the fire marshal inspection, enforcement and complaints processes. All were found to need improvement. The analysis covered calendar year 2011 through 2013.
The auditor cited untimely inspection of buildings and lax reinspections when violations were found as well as lax monitoring of fire prevention bureaus to make sure they are conducting all required inspections.
In addition, the auditor said the office needs to develop a penalty and enforcement program that encourages future compliance with applicable fire safety codes and regulations.
The Fire Marshal’s Office also needs a better tracking system to make sure that complaints are addressed timely.
“Office of State Fire Marshal management needs to strengthen these processes to ensure buildings are in compliance with applicable codes and regulations,” the report concluded.
Browning said in an interview Monday he agreed with the report. “Everything they have recommended in that report we have done,” Browning said.
Inspections, enforcement and complaint response should improve as a result of an ongoing employee cross-training program that enables an employee to perform up to nine different functions. In addition, Browning said a new “modernized data management system” is scheduled to be functioning by May, which will help his office keep better track of the situation at all buildings under its jurisdiction. The system is being funded with a $2.8 million federal grant, awarded in 2011.
The system will help inspectors, for instance, evaluate the fire-safety risk of buildings, looking at their age, whether they have sprinkler systems and other factors. In addition, it will allow the office to issue electronic citations for violations and impositions of civil fines for noncompliance for the first time, he said.
The Fire Marshal’s Office has 25,868 structures under its jurisdiction of which 17,977 are schools, universities, state buildings and licensed out-patient health facilities.
The auditor’s office reviewed 278 structures. Of those, 65 structures were not inspected during 2013, and 20 of the 65 were not inspected over a three-year period.
Browning said yearly inspections are a self-imposed goal. “We strive to do them annually, but we can only do so much with the people we have,” Browning said.
Of 385 violations reviewed involving 149 structures, the fire marshal did not follow up on 81 of the violations or reinspect the 33 different structures with the violations to determine if the violations were corrected before the next annual inspection, the auditor said. Of the structures with violations, the auditor said 47 had repeat violations over multiple reinspections but received no enforcement action. “Penalties may deter structure owners from repeatedly violating life safety codes,” the auditor said.
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