AUSTIN (KXAN) – City Code Compliance managers confirm Austin’s Fire Department is being investigated for 20 permit violations at 10 different locations. Fire authorities say in half of those cases, the proper permits are now being obtained and inspections carried out.
In an email, Asst. Chief Brian Tanzola responded to KXAN: “The Austin Fire Department has over 50 individual locations which makes maintenance and oversight of each facility very challenging… we are working with Code Compliance to make the necessary corrections.”
At Fire Station No. 1 on E 5th Street a rooftop electrical outlet was put in without an electrical permit. And a water line for washing and ice machines was installed without a plumbing permit, records show.
At Station 12 near 51st Street and Burnet Road, a gas line was run to a barbeque pit without a permit. A drinking fountain was put in – again without plumbing permit.
Other violations include a lack of building permits for projects to divide an office space, convert offices into sleeping quarters and building a carport larger than 120 sq. ft.
KXAN was denied access to the fire stations Thursday to see the problems firsthand because a Department escort was unavailable.
A City Code Compliance spokesperson tells KXAN the City has to follow essentially the same rules as any homeowner or business owner. Like your own home, inspections are done after a permitted project to ensure any electrical, plumbing or construction work is completed up to standards of safety and materials.
The revelations shine a light on how many city departments are potentially having minor plumbing, electrical or construction work performed without first getting the proper permits. However, the system is complaint-based. So if no one blows the whistle into non-permitted renovations or construction, the City will likely never know, prompting individual department heads to make the effort to oversee their building conditions and inventory.
The City of Austin owns 2,600 buildings, staff confirm. At the moment, there is no formal call for city-wide building safety inspection program.
The reason is straight forward. Renovations of existing facilities aren’t always at the top of budgets when rescue boats or replacement oxygen tanks are deemed more important.
Newly retired Austin firefighter Dale Flatt says he has been filing code violation complaints for months and suggests any shoots down any excuse that budget dollars and staff time are in short supply to get the work done right.
“We have people inside the fire department that are licensed home inspectors that could be given a temporary duty assignment and objectively take a look at all our fire stations,” Flatt said, also pointing out former Chief Fowler compiled a list of fire station conditions. It is unclear if current fire management has looked at or updated that list.
An email obtained by KXAN from a Code Compliance division manager to AFD chiefs suggests they could ask for an extension beyond the 90 days the City gave them to have the proper permits pulled for the violations and inspections carried out. Code Compliance spokesperson Candice Cooper told KXAN no City department gets a pass on following the set rules.
“We do not do any favors. We follow processes. (For comparison,) if the owner of a residential property would like to request an extension, they can do that,” Cooper said noting her department is mounting an education campaign to help Austinites better know when they need to pull a permit.
She also points out Code Compliance recently started a commercial building section. City buildings fall under that jurisdiction.
It’s unlikely any individual city firefighters will be punished for not following the rules that led to the recent violations.
Asst. Chief Tanzola wrote: ‘We are unable to identify who did the work, or when it was done, so it would be difficult to completely understand the circumstances that contributed to the lack of proper permitting, but many appear to be the result of a lack of knowledge concerning the process.’
He went on to say: “None of the identified violations are imminently dangerous, and we have been given 90 days for each violation to ensure that the proper permits are applied for, and to bring the location up to code.”
Ultimately, senior Fire Dept. authorities said a full review of building renovation procedures is possible.