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How does Houston stack up when it comes to fire inspections?

Channel 2 Investigates discovers fire department records in disarray


HOUSTON – A massive fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California, last year killed 36 people. City officials revealed the building hadn't been inspected in three decades.

That compelled Channel 2 Investigates to question: How does Houston stack up when it comes to fire inspections?

Channel 2 Investigates discovered fire department records in disarray, with places like apartment complexes, libraries and city landmarks with no inspections in the last three or four years.

Channel 2 Investigates checked some of these buildings and found fire safety concerns.

There are nearly 5,000 apartment complexes in Houston.

Ideally, the Houston Fire Department should be inspecting each complex every year, said the new fire chief, Samuel Peña.

But instead because of budget and manpower issues, Peña told Channel 2 Investigates, "I can tell you the majority, but not all of them, are within that three-year schedule."

In most cases though, Channel 2 Investigates found HFD misses even that extended three-year window.

From an HFD internal memo, "It will take over 10 years to complete a general inspection of all apartments in the city."

VIEW: HFD Internal Memo

File: HFD Internal Memo

Channel 2 Investigates has found when it comes to safety inspections, the Houston Fire Department is simply overwhelmed.

Houston hospitals, and care facilities fare best, are inspected the most, basically every 12 months.

But after that at properties private and public, it's unpredictable.

Channel 2 Investigates brought this to the attention of Houston's mayor.

"City Hall hasn't been inspected since 2014," Channel 2 Investigator Joel Eisenbaum said.

"Well, No. 1, let me thank you for being concerned," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "There is a lot of deferred maintenance around here ... and I'm sure if you're doing inspections, you're going to find some serious problems."

The mayor said when it comes to the city's own buildings recreation centers, libraries and fire stations, Houston falls woefully short.

"It's a cost factor, even in regards to hazardous buildings," Turner said.

But the firefighters union said if you don't invest in the Houston Fire Department soon, for more inspectors and a better record-keeping system you we will soon pay a lot more.

"If it's your family, your mother, your child, your father?" said Patrick Lancton, president, IAFF-Local 341. "I'd say the efficiency when it comes to the Inspection Division or any other division when it comes to the report is probably lacking. There hasn't been a comprehensive solution to any of the issues affecting the Houston Fire Department in years."

Channel 2 Investigates also met with the fire chief. Eisenbaum showed the fire chief the inspection records, "There's hardly anything filled in of what's been inspected. Does that mean it's never been inspected?"

"No, it doesn't mean it's never been inspected," Peña said.

HFD's Life Safety Bureau could not even provide to Channel 2 Investigates dates of last inspection for hundreds of apartment complexes.

An independent study last year found HFD's Life Safety Inspection Bureau had no mission statement, no plan, not enough cars for inspectors and no standardized inspection form.

"But you don't concede the point that having enough inspectors having an antiquated system is a threat to the public to some degree?" Eisenbaum asked the fire chief.

"I concede the point that there's a lot of gaps in what we're doing right now," Peña said.

VIEW: Response time staffing analysis model for the Houston Fire Department

File: Response Time Staffing Analysis Model for the Houston Fire Department