A committee had the chance to discuss Augusta fire station violations. Instead, they cut the meeting short.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019
(News 12 at 6 & 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- It was unexpected, at least for quite a few in commission. The agenda changed and so did the topics to be discussed, including fire stations.

The commission clerk moved around the agenda items at the immediate request of some leaders who would not be able to stay. Effectively postponing talks about fire station violations and the repairs within them.

The leaders on the committee that would discuss the 199 code violations left before talks could begin. That's because another meeting called for them to be present, they said. It's TIA, or Transportation Investment Act. It's the body that chooses road projects and funding for the projects across the region. But News 12 was told, two of the commissioners that left are not on the TIA committee. But those same two commissioners are indeed on the committee that would address fire station violations.

With no quorum to discuss the violations, no discussions happened. Tuesday's meeting changes brought things to a halt but not an end. Some leaders are still waiting for answers.

"I really hope to hear from the Chief," Commissioner Brandon Garrett continued, "and others regarding the inspection process that's been in the news lately as well as the upkeep of the stations."I'm hoping to hear how some of these have been addressed." Adding, "I want to know why it's taken years for a lot of these issues to be addressed."

Garrett is the commissioner who added the item to the Public Safety agenda. He says it must be talked about sooner rather than later. Also looking to Risk Management for guidance.

"They come in, do the inspections, they issue a report to the Chief, then what happens," Garrett asked. "And that's really what the question is here--wanting to know what happens next and how do we make this easier and how do we move this forward and get these issues addressed."

They're hoping the issues will be addressed on this upcoming Tuesday. Garrett says he will again add the item to be discussed in front of the full commission.


Monday, February 11, 2019
(News 12 at 6 o'clock)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- The very agency that can condemn buildings for not being up to fire code, has the same problems
with their own buildings. After News 12 uncovered 199 violations in 2018 alone, city leaders plan to discuss it in Tuesday's commission.

Fire Station 7 is on Willis Foreman Road, over in Hephzibah. It looks pretty good from the outside, and it's fairly new. But looks can be deceiving. An inspection found the only hydrant at the station does not work. Augusta Fire Inspector Jason Adams noted the violation in a 2018 inspection report.

News 12 has followed violations like this one, through Risk Management reports and Augusta Fire inspection reports, asking for answers. We went to Augusta Fire Administration for an interview when we first uncovered issues, our request has neither been denied or accepted.

In the meantime, commissioners are willing to talk. Dennis Williams is the commissioner over Public Safety. On his Public Safety committee agenda for this Tuesday, fire station repairs and violations will be discussed-- per request from Commissioner Brandon Garrett.

"If we're going to tear down a fire station next year, why should we go through the expense of some costly repairs," Williams asked rhetorically. "Repairs we can get by with(out)." Augusta Government reporter Ciara Cummings rebutted, "But to that point, people live in them. That's why."

Williams responded, "Well, they're not necessarily a danger."

Risk Management says the opposite. In a 2017 inspection report for Station 3 on Reynolds Street, an inspector wrote under the violations:
"Items annotated are health and injury hazard." Adding, "the building will be demolished however safety remains a top priority."

But Williams offered. "We're not going to put citizens in a building that's about to fall down and hit you upside the head."

From the outside looking in, the stations are not falling down or a part but inside, the safety protocols are wearing away.

"We wouldn't be operating or staying in a building that is considered to be unsafe."

Williams argued many of the violations News 12 uncovered do not pose an immediate threat. So here's a closer look:
In 2018, the station with the lowest number of violations was station 10, with only 6. The highest was station 3, with 17 violations.

Some violations are indeed minor, like incorrect lighting, but then there are violations like these, 'no fire extinguishers in building,' 'no secondary means of escape,' 'fire system showing trouble,' fire hydrants not working, no working smoke detectors, sprinkler systems broken, and non-compliant suppression testing standards.

Oh, and don't forget the concerns of asbestos in station 14. An inspector noted back in 2016, in the ceiling what he thought to be asbestos. A follow up inspection by a private company (ACES) said based on the sample they were allowed to take and test, there was no asbestos.

"There will be no violations concerning any of our fire stations." Dennis continued, "that would be a harm to any of our citizens or employees." Adding, he has full faith in the Fire Chief and his administration.

Nearly 200 violations later in fire stations, the firemen and women who live inside them say otherwise.


Wednesday, January 30, 2018
(News 12 at 6 o'clock)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- When we asked for the fire administration to sit down with us to go over code violations
across three years, the city responded on the Chief's behalf. The fire administration alleged both the inspection reports and News 12 reporting are inaccurate.

In 2016, an inspector with Risk Management noted the concerns of hazardous contents in the ceiling of Station 14, he wrote asbestos on the report. After our original story, Augusta Fire Chief James countered that with an evaluation done by an environmental testing agency along with his own report on repairs. He gave it to commissioners on Tuesday.

Alternative Construction Environment Solutions, or ACES, came in three months after Risk Management's March 2016 inspection, to test the ceiling.

Written in the conclusion of the ACES report it says, "During this inspection, materials suspected to contain asbestos may have been identified but due to their location or current use, were not sampled."

The report outlines, they carved a sample from a portion of the ceiling.
Based on the portion they were allowed to sample, they found no asbestos.

When it came to improvements on potential health and injury hazards, Risk Management noted repeatedly for 3 years, the same six stations, including station 14, had no progress or were deemed non-compliant on fire system testing.

We found 18 of the 19 fire station did not meet fire suppression testing standards. There's either no record of the test, or the station failing the test.

That means, in some stations, sprinkler systems were broken, smoke detectors did not respond, or fire extinguishers were not being inspected or they were not present. These are standards, the city requires for even regular buildings.

We were able to track 199 violations across the stations in 2018 alone, but the chief says, most of those have been fixed as of today.

He gave a stack of packet of papers to commissioners on Tuesday. In it, list 123 fixes across the 19 stations. According to the Chief's list, they were done, at the latest, by December 2018.

From upgrading fire suppression like sprinklers and detectors, repairing the wiring inspectors noted as hazardous, to repairing holes and ceilings.

The Chief's report of repairs was neither an official inspection report from Risk Management, nor did come from Augusta Fire's own inspectors. News 12 is working to confirm with the City how many code violations have been fixed.

Firefighters argue, even if Fire Administration is working to repair some violations, they're not sure why it had to take 3 years to do it.

The Public Information Officer, Jim Beasley told News 12, many of the stations are extremely old. Adding what met standards decades ago, may not meet standards today. For example, Augusta Fire's own inspection reports cite that some stations had no means of secondary escape. The city offered, that's because some of the stations were originally built without it.

UPDATE

Monday, January 28, 2019
(News 12 at 6 o'clock)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- When a business has too many building violations, the fire department is called in to inspect, and possibly condemn it. But when the fire department has the violations, it's Augusta Risk Management that comes in. Turns out, they found violations that have not been improved for years.

Engine Company 14 sits off Highway 88 in Blythe. It's one of Augusta Fire's 19 stations where Risk Management found potentially
hazardous problems.

"When our inspectors, inspect us, they don't hold us to the same standard that they're holding the public to," Captain Daniel Steele says, "That's unfair."

Steele is a 20 year fireman. As a current captain with Augusta Fire, he knows about the nearly 200 violations cited in the most recent 2018 inspection reports by Augusta Fire. He says he's repeatedly watched safety issues fall through the cracks.

The Risk Management reports pulled from 2015 through 2018, offer a similar assessment. Across 19 stations, 6 of them were marked with "no progress made" and "non-compliant" across a 3-year span.

The City of Augusta requires buildings and business to have fire suppression systems tested and check, at the least, every year. The same is true for fire stations. Based on the inspection reports, 18 of the 19 stations did not pass the testing standards. That means, there was either no record of the required testing, or the fire system itself failed its test. (i.e. smoke detectors not sounding off, sprinkler heads not working or broken ones not replaced, fire extinguisher tags expired).

"If we're out and something happens, we're proned to accidents too," Steele explained. "[But], we're not protected."

According to Risk Management's assessment, improvements that are not being made are potential issues to health and injury.

Here's what an inspector noted in a 2017 Fire Station 3 report: "Items annotated are primarily health or injury hazards, because it is understood the building is being demolished, therefore maintenance is not a priority, however employee safety remains a top priority and items need to be addressed." In this report, Station 3 was also listed as "minimal progress" when it came to improvements. The fire system and fire extinguishers were noted as not being inspected monthly.

The same potential hazardous problems were mirrored in other stations. Reports cite exposed wiring, "questionable" wiring for lighting fixtures, no secondary/fire escape, broken ceilings, and broken walls.

"That's absurd," Steele argued. "It's a standard we hold the public to in their business. We should be held to a higher standard than they are held to because we're actually the ones that can come out to their business and close them."

We tracked the violations. There's 199 in 2018, and this is according to Augusta Fire's own inspection of itself. Inspector Jason Adams with the fire department completed the reports.

But back to the Risk Management inspections. News 12 comb through the reports dating back to 2015. The city consistently cited that stations were not being improved. Along with the reports came supporting documents like pictures of alleged problems.

Steele says after reporting problems, and getting little change, morale deteriorated. Also with it, ceilings and walls.
One report from station 14 in 2016, completed by Risk Management, advises that no one should touch or try to remove the "thick coating" on the ceiling because the inspector says, there was the concern of it being asbestos.

After News 12 had the chance to study the reports, we asked the city who is responsible and what happens when stations don't do improvements that Risk Management says need to happen? We also reached out to Augusta Fire for clarification, asking for an interview or statement. We got no response from Fire Administration. But, the city's Public Information Officer Jim Beasley told us via email, the city needed time to research before they could respond. Beasley also noted the Fire Adminstration was aware of our inquiry for comment and he'd be working with them for a statement.

This statement was emailed 4 minutes before the WRDW Newscast. It did not originally air within the 6'clock newscast, but it did air during the WAGT 7 o'clock News.