State inspectors issue a safety report card on Kemah

April 25, 2011 8:46:32 AM PDT
A state fire marshal's report is raising new questions about safety in one of the Houston area's biggest tourist attractions. One of the violators is a town's mayor.

13 Undercover tonight: still on the trail in Kemah.

Come to Houston's playground, and stay awhile.

If you stay overnight, the Seaside Inn is a three-story bed and breakfast. It sleeps 12, and it's owned by the town's mayor, Matt Wiggins.

"Should a place be sleeping people without a fire inspection?" we asked.

"Absolutely not," Wiggins answered.

And now, the state fire marshal has issued its own report after complaints from residents triggered an April inspection.

Some guest rooms they found did not have approved smoke alarms at the time. Other alarms may not have been functioning properly. The primary means of escape from upper floors was not protected with fire sprinklers. Sleeping rooms were not equipped with devices to keep smoke from spreading quickly in the event of fire.

Remember our questions to Kemah's building official, Jack Fryday?

"Should a bed and breakfast be operating without the proper occupancy permits?"

"Probably not," Fryday answered.

Well, Seaside Inn was. And it was no secret to the city building department. We know. We told them. And we got some tough talk.

"Right now, Matt Wiggins doesn't cough without a permit," Fryday said.

We don't know if the mayor coughed, but we do know from the state fire marshal that Edgewater Inn didn't display an occupancy permit either, because it didn't have one -- or evidence the city had inspected it for fire safety. You know who owns that one? Matt Wiggins.

The fire code violations found by the state there are similar to the ones found at Seaside Inn.

Then, there's the mayor's newest bed and breakfast -- Captain's Quarters. Fire code violations there, too.

The city gave Captain's Quarters a new certificate of occupancy last year without a fire inspection or proof of windstorm insurance. In fact, documents obtained by 13 Undercover show an engineer hired to approve the place asked the state to withdraw the insurance application, citing deficiencies in the walls of the place.

"Have you seen the state fire marshal's inspections yet?" we asked Wiggins.

"No."

"The state fire marshal found violations in your bed and breakfasts," we said. "You want to talk about it?"

Since our stories in February, the city has found out just how many commercial buildings there have been allowed to operate without proper safety permits.

Of 255 commercial buildings, 125 -- less than half -- had a permit allowing them to be open for business.

Less than one-third had records of a fire inspection.

"I'm very glad we at least know how underwater we are because that's how you get to the surface is you start swimming in the right direction," Kemah City Councilman Wayne Rast said.

Remember the Swamp Shack? It got its certificate of occupancy just days after our first report. It's a two-story building, and there's only one way down. The minimum required is two. The state says some portable fire extinguishers there were empty, too.

Much of the boardwalk was inspected by the city in the days after our Kemah stories. We counted 17 fire inspections by one guy in one day -- a lot of ground to cover, but was it covered properly?

The new state inspections show fire code violations the city did not say a word about, like unapproved ways out in the event of trouble.

At the Aquarium restaurant, the decorative scenery does not appear to meet minimum requirements to stop the spread of flame and smoke.

"Fire safety is a number one job of any city," Rast said. "Obviously, whatever is wrong, we will get it right."

Surely, the fire station in Kemah is the bastion of fire safety.

Well, think again.

The state found the fire alarm system in violation of state laws, and the fire alarm system was actually silenced. The sprinkler system inspection was out of date, too -- at a fire station.

"At the fire station," Rast laughed. "What can you say?"

You can see the fire inspection reports below.

By law, the state fire marshal can't close places down or make them fix their problems, so we will see what the city of Kemahn does -- if anything. But it will fuel the controversy that already surrounds one of the nastiest local elections scheduled next month. More on that tomorrow.

Landry's Restaurants Inc. owns Kemah Boardwalk. A Landry's official tonight said they are already working to correct things the state fire marshal wants them to fix.

Read letters sent by the state fire marshal's office to the following Kemah businesses

Aja Nail Salon
Amadeus
Aquarium Restaurant and Stingray Reef
Bayside Grill
Boardwalk Inn Hotel
Captain Quarters
Courtesy Inn
Dungeon of Doom Special Amusement Building
Edgewater Inn
Kemah Boardwalk human resources
Kemah Fire Station
Kemah City Hall Police Station
Landry's Seafood Restaurant
Madeleine's Wine Bistro
Monkey Bar
Palapas
Saltgrass Restaurant
Seaside Inn
Starbucks Coffee
Swamp Shack
The Brass Lantern Bed and Breakfast
The Pizza Oven
Zone 504 Sports Bar

Load Comments