Courthouse gets judged by fire marshal

July 17, 2008 9:20:00 PM PDT
Updating a 13 Undercover exclusive investigation we told you about this week. We've learned how much you will have to pay for a small fire in a lap-top computer in the criminal courthouse, $80,000. Fire inspectors say the damage was far greater because county building officials didn't call the fire department for four hours after the alarms went off and one sprinkler wasn't discovered on for at least an hour and a half. Repairing the judge's security elevator alone is costing $50,000.

Wednesday night you heard a criminal court judge express concerns about the safety of the building and her lack of confidence in the monitoring of safety there.

We were there when Houston Fire Marshal Frank Arriola showed up at Harris County's Civil Courthouse, a brand new building that should have every available safety feature. A building you paid more than $100 million for. It just opened last year and Wednesday morning the fire marshal found serious problems.

On the 17th floor the emergency exits were improperly locked. In a fire people could get trapped inside the stairwell, unless it's changed.

"In Chicago we had six people die because of this situation," Arriola said.

In another exit there were cigarette butts. That's a sign employees don't want to ride the elevator to satisfy a craving. It's a definite no-no.

There were other problems but it's not the only building the county needs to work on.

Earlier in the week the same inspector visited the family law center and found similar problems.

On a report there were orders to exit doors to be unlocked. He also found exit signs marked improperly and fire exits that you may need to use blocked by filing cabinets and trash cans. The fire alarm hadn't been tested. That should be done every year, it hasn't. Bad enough, but even worse, when you look at the inspection report from six years ago and find the same things.

The report notes the same violations in 2002.

And just to see if the county had different standards for county leadership than it does for court users, we checked the administration building just to see if their fire alarms system had been tested in the last 12 months as the code requires.

Fear not, no double standard here.

The administration building was last checked in April 2007, 15 months ago making it out of compliance by three months.

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