Auditors renew criticism of Fire Marshal's Office

Nevada legislative auditors Monday criticized the state Fire Marshal's Office, saying it has made almost no progress fixing problems identified in the 2001 audit despite the addition of six more employees specifically to address the shortcomings.

The report says only 5,274 of the estimated 20,000 Nevada businesses that store hazardous materials have been identified and permitted. That isn't many more than the 4,500 businesses with hazardous material permits in 2001. And more than 300 of those businesses didn't have current permits - a loss to the state of some $80,000 in uncollected renewal fees.

Auditors in 2001 made annual inspections of state buildings a priority. But the audit report issued Monday said annual inspections have not been performed on 56 of 60 state buildings.

"In addition, staff could not provide any records that an inspection had ever been performed for more than half of these buildings," the audit report stated. "These inspections help ensure exits are not blocked, alarms work, and fire-extinguishing systems are properly maintained."

"As a result, the safety of the public, state employees and state property was at risk," the report states.

Auditors charged that the division is disorganized and inefficient and lacks processes to track and report what inspections have been done. They said inspectors were not properly supervised and that, too often, inspectors traveled long distances to perform a few inspections, then repeated the trip to perform a few more. In one case, an inspector made 13 separate trips from Carson City to Las Vegas to conduct inspections in 2006.

"We identified two inspectors that spent less than 20 percent of their available work hours performing inspections," the audit report states.

In addition, seven of the 60 fire protection companies reviewed by the auditors have never been licensed even though a list of those companies is kept by the state Contractors' Board. Two of them have been operating for more than five years.

The division is also supposed to register interior designers to make sure their knowledge of fire-rated materials is sufficient to protect the public. None of the 18 interior designers contacted by auditors were registered with the division even though counties maintain a list of those businesses.

Fire Marshal James Wright, who is relatively new to that post, said in a letter he agreed with the auditors' findings and would adopt all of their recommendations including developing policies and procedures to find and register businesses that store and use hazardous materials, to ensure they are inspected and their permits renewed annually. He promised he would also set up a process to ensure state buildings are inspected annually and work to develop internal controls for coordinating, scheduling and managing staff among others.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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