Fire chiefs blast lawmakers, schools lacking inspections |

Fire chiefs blast lawmakers, schools lacking inspections

DENVER – Days after a scathing audit found serious shortcomings in school-building inspections, Colorado fire chiefs accused lawmakers of compromising children’s safety because of a turf war over who controls the inspection program.The Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association, which represents about 300 chiefs across the state, said in a statement this week that lawmakers have known for years that schools were not being properly inspected.Association president Doug Forsman said Thursday the shortcomings have endangered lives.”It is only by luck and chance that we haven’t lost a child due to a fire or structural collapse in a school,” he said.The fire chiefs’ statement said they have been trying since 1997 to transfer responsibility for inspections from the state Oil and Public Safety Division to the Fire Safety Division, but were rebuffed.They also said they warned state officials that inspections weren’t being done.”The fire chiefs believe the enforcement of building and fire codes in public schools is a life-safety function, best regulated by those whose mission is life safety,” the association said.The chiefs said lawmakers were warned about the problems years ago when fire officials testified before the Legislature that certificates of occupancy – required before a building can be used – were being issued before construction was complete and before fire and safety systems were working.The fire chiefs said they had also told lawmakers that exit doors had been installed backward, some doors were not fire-rated as required and that fire walls had been penetrated, rendering them useless in a fire.Instead of fixing the problems, the fire chiefs association said, lawmakers killed a bill that would have transferred control of the program. Later, they approved a compromise that kept the program in the Oil and Public Safety Division but transferred the authority to enforce fire codes to the Fire Safety Division.But the compromise required new rules before it could go into effect, and those rules have not been written, the chiefs said.Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, who proposed the legislation that would have transferred the inspections to the Fire Safety Division, said lawmakers and educators killed his bill in a battle over who would run the program.”They didn’t think it was the business of fire chiefs and firefighters to handle this,” Wiens said.The audit released Monday found violations including insufficient sprinklers, fire walls and exits in architectural drawings for 10 school projects, some completed and occupied and others still under construction.Auditors said the failures presented a serious threat to public safety.Lawmakers said they were stunned to learn that the lives of children were put at risk and said they were considering a major overhaul of the Oil and Public Safety Division.Don Mares, executive director of the Department of Labor & Employment, which oversees the Oil and Public Safety, said the agency was short-staffed but added that was not an excuse for the failures.

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