Audit asks KCFD to improve timeliness of inspections

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
January 29, 2014

Not too many city audits end in hugs and tears, but that’s exactly what happened with the city’s performance audit of the Fire Code Inspection Program, said Floyd Peoples, Kansas City Fire Department (KCFD) chief fire marshall.

“Our whole staff was pleased to work with them (city auditor staff),” Peoples said.

When the city auditor’s staff wrapped up the audit and said goodbye to KCFD staff, hugs were exchanged and tears were shed, Peoples said.

“It was very helpful,” Peoples told Northeast News of the audit. “It gives us something to work with. Our goal of operating in the level of excellence has been achieved; there are just some nooks and crannies we need to address and fill in.”

The audit evaluated the Fire Code Inspection Program’s internal controls and evaluated whether or not the fire inspection database was reasonably complete.

“It seems this is a program that’s being run very well, but there are clearly areas that can be improved,” said John Sharp, chair of the city’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee.

One area needing improvement involves the timeliness of fire code inspections, the audit stated. In 2013, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 24, 20 percent of the annual fire inspections were completed late. Each fire inspection is given a 30-day grace period, since re-inspections aren’t usually conducted on the same exact day as the previous inspection. Number of days late ranged from one day past the grace period to more than 365 days. In 2012, the number of late inspections totaled 13 percent. In addition, the audit estimates that the Fire Prevention Division failed to inspect 171 structures that would have required annual fire permits, which resulted in about $21,400 in lost permit revenue. According to the audit, structures requiring permits are “at higher risk for fire because of the materials used and/or the activities that take place within them.” Permits are required for structures that have occupancies of 50 or more people, like churches and restaurants, structures that use flammable/combustible liquids, among others. Annually, the Fire Prevention Division conducts 19,000 inspections of commercial and multi-family structures to enforce the city’s fire code and ensure occupant safety. As a result of late inspections, the City Auditor’s Office recommended the division prioritize fire inspections, placing higher priority on structures requiring permits. Approximately one-third of inspected structures require a permit.

Other recommendations included creating written policies and procedures for fire inspectors to follow during inspections, and creating written guidelines for entering data in the database and for processing payments and permits. Currently, only one employee knows how to perform this task, and cross-training staff is recommended. The audit also recommended improving the segregation of duties and working with additional city departments to improve the data listed in the fire inspection database. However, the audit determined the database is “reasonably complete.” People’s told Northeast News the division will soon be replacing its software management database tool, which will assist in improving the accuracy of the fire safety inspection database.

People’s commended the auditor’s office and said the release of the audit will complement the fire department’s process of creating a strategic plan which will be implemented after the new fiscal year. In addition, People’s said he appreciated receiving an outsider’s perspective on the division and that the division would begin making immediate changes. While the division’s goal is to inspect every commercial and multi-family structure annually, People’s pointed out that the division has gone from 18 inspectors to 13 inspectors as a result of “austerity measures.” However, the division will continue to do its best and put its best foot forward, he said.

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