Fire marshal's demotion comes in wake of ABC-13, city probes

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston's head fire inspector demotion was announced late Friday, but Richard Galvan was benched from the city's fire marshal's job after a series of ABC-13 reports about the city's failure to inspect its own buildings for fire code violations and an investigation by the city's Office of Inspector General.

ABC-13 broke the story in July about Houston city fire inspectors being ordered not to ticket city buildings. City officials initially called the fire inspectors who sounded the alarm about the ticket ban "disgruntled" and said their claims were untrue. But ABC-13 uncovered a memo that appeared to support the inspectors' charges.

That memo was dated in February and said to not ticket city buildings. Fire officials said that a sentence in that memo was taken out of context and promised to clarify their policy.

Galvan denied any wrongdoing when contacted Monday by ABC-13 and said he disagreed with the findings of the inspector general.

"I've served the city for 30 years and love serving the people of the City of Houston," Galvan said. "Their safety is always the top priority for me. I'm proud of what I have done for the city of Houston and I will continue to serve."

On Friday, the results of an inspector general investigation were released, vindicating the "disgruntled" fire inspectors. That investigation came to similar conclusions as the ABC-13 reports, six months after those reports aired.

Galvan was demoted in both rank and salary. His fire marshal salary was just over $130,000. Galvan's annual salary will drop to around $94,000, fire officials said.

Randall Kallinen is an attorney representing a group of fire inspectors who voiced concerns about an order not to ticket city buildings.

"The fire inspectors are very encouraged with this demotion," Kallinen said. "It sends the message that if you don't do your job, you're going to get disciplined."

It's unclear if city buildings are dramatically safer than they were when ABC-13 uncovered the problems last year.

Examples of what ABC-13 found include:

  • Fire stations across the city rife with problems. Some didn't have enough fire extinguishers; some lacked working exit signs and didn't have enough smoke detectors. Many inspections noted dangerous wiring and flammable liquids dangerously stored.

  • Three years ago, fire officials uncovered major problems at the fire department's own Dart Street facility, including lack of sprinkler coverage, bolted exit doors and blocked exits. These problems should have been fixed immediately.

  • And at 611 Walker Street, the downtown Houston high-rise that's home to Public Works, Human Resources and many other city departments, a March inspection showed that 98 percent of emergency exit signs were not working.

City officials said that some of those problems have been fixed.

A few weeks before his demotion, Galvan said that he assigned the task of inspecting all 1,200 city buildings to a single inspector, rather than having it be a part of the job of all inspectors.

Galvan said the move was for efficiency, but also didn't know if it was working.

Kallinen, though, said inspectors are still concerned about safety issues in city-owned buildings.

"City of Houston employees want to work and deserve to work in a safe environment," he said. "There are still a lot of problems with the inspection of city buildings. They have not fixed the major problems. These are dangerous problems. These are not little problems."
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