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Attorney for Houston fire marshalls alleges flawed inspection rules

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On Tuesday July 8 at City Hall, attorney Randall Kallinen and four expeienced fire marshalls held a press conference just before the start of the City Council meeting to explain concerns for public safety. Doug Tremor with 31 years of service, Gary Halbrick retired with 39 years of service, George Hernandez with 34 years of service, Van Wen with 19 years of service. Mr. Kallinen asserted that fire marshalls responsible for inspecting city buildings pursuant to an insurance audit were given oral orders to refrain from issuing citations. He further alleged that buildings that failed and were re-inspected were not being properly cited, suggesting that the Fire Department was compromising public safety for unknown reasons.

Attorney Kallinen also claimed that the system for assigning overtime for fire marshals lacked the transparency of the system for fire fighters. Answering questions from the media about his planned course of action, he insisted that no litigation was planned, However, he and his clients hoped to work through the administrative and political process to correct improper policies.

When his turn came to speak to the council, Attorney Kallinen introduced the four fire marshals and summarized his charges. But Council members raised several questions about the allegations. On the matter of the method of assigning overtime, Council Member Bradford, an attorney and former police chief, asked if the issue was not covered in the collective bargaining agreement. He stated that if fire marshals allege that the overtime assignments violate the agreement, the matter needed to be raised in the administrative complaint process provided under the agreement.

Concerning the policy of not issuing citations, Mayor Parker stated that it is a city policy for both public and private inspections to refrain from issuing citations to allow the building owner to make voluntary corrections. She stated that 90% of the code violations are corrected this way after one inspection. Consequently, the enforcement of the code by citations is used only when compliance cannot be obtained amicably.

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