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Last updated: Fri. Nov. 09, 2012 - 03:13 pm EDT

High-risk buildings go uninspected; cuts blamed

Coming Sunday

•The city’s Internal Audit Department has been targeted for elimination by the City Council. A story Sunday looks at the department’s overall performance including efforts to make city operations more efficient while also preventing fraud and abuse.

FORT WAYNE — High-risk buildings have not been getting annual fire inspections, a city audit has found.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department’s goal is to inspect every high-risk building once a year, but personnel shortages caused by budget cuts have made that impossible, officials said. High-risk buildings are those that hold 1,000 people or more, schools, apartment buildings, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, child-care centers and high-rises.

When staff from the city’s Internal Audit Department randomly selected 15 high-risk buildings from the fire department’s list, 60 percent of them were not inspected in 2011.

Fire officials said they simply don’t have enough inspectors: There are 12,000 businesses in Fort Wayne and – when fully staffed – the department has six inspectors. Because of budget cuts, the department was short four inspectors for a while, officials said, and is currently down three.

The present budget does not include staff to fill the empty positions, and Fire Chief Amy Biggs has said that if there are further cuts, she may have to eliminate inspections entirely, forcing businesses to hire and pay for inspections themselves.

Fire officials also said they’ve updated their database of structures and have made changes to allow all high-risk buildings to be inspected yearly, while other buildings will get inspected every three years instead of every two.

The audit also found that required fire drills were not being performed, and fire plans were not being made. Those findings were in the same 15 high-risk buildings auditors examined and department officials said that, too, was because of staff shortages.

Auditors also found that gear assigned to firefighters is not being properly tracked and accounted for, and officials are not conducting required monthly checks of firefighters’ driver’s licenses. Department officials said both issues are being addressed.

Another audit found problems with how the police department assigned cold cases; police department officials said it was mainly a tracking issue that did not affect investigations, but the issue would be addressed.

When there was a retirement, the cold-case unit was disbanded, officials said, but the cases were not assigned to investigators in the computer system so they would not adversely affect their performance reports. Now, cold cases will be assigned in the computer to a supervisor and a new policy will be written to ensure cold cases are periodically reviewed.

An audit of the city’s drug and alcohol testing policy found that many positions in the parks department should require quarterly testing because they may involve the direct supervision of children under the policy but were not listed in the table of jobs currently being tested.

Most of the positions were seasonal jobs, and officials are adjusting the list to match those that require testing.

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