Phoenix Penalizes Fire Department for Failure to Enforce Code in Library Flood

The Phoenix Library was heavily damaged when corroded sprinkler pipes leaked.

The high profile event resulted in multiple demotions and firings of city employees for failure to perform their “pre-eminent” duty.

Phoenix Fire Truck

Backlash. Several Phoenix firefighters were punished for the library flooding.

IT WASN’T EVEN A FIRE that stirred up this whirlwind of trouble for Phoenix firefighters. It was a windstorm. The wind created dust that caused smoke alarms to send water to the sprinkler system. And the sprinklers weren’t the problem either. The pipes feeding the sprinklers were so corroded that water shot out of the pipes, damaging five floors of the public library. Repairs took a year and 11 city employees were disciplined or fired.

A report following the disaster highlighted three main causes.

  • First, when the previous fire marshall left, his efforts to create a workflow for monitoring “deficiency reports” that would have predicted scenarios like this fell apart:

As reported by AZCentral (link below):In his absence, the process “degenerated into disorganization and deemphasis, to the point that the backlog swamped the process,” and “the Records Clerk, her supervisors, and their chain of command share some responsibility for this failure,” the report stated.”

  • Next, the city clerk more than fumbled:

“DeLaCruz decided on her own that city buildings were exempt from enforcement action, which is not true, according to the report. She was supposed to log reports for follow-up, communicate issues to the building owner, or send an inspector to evaluate the deficiencies. Instead, according to the report, she decided to handle reports on city buildings by forwarding them to someone else and then discarding them, effectively desroying public records, which is illegal.”

And finally, the new Fire Marshall, Mike Abegg, and his chiefs took serious heat: He was demoted, and the city “suspended both Assistant Fire Chief Kelvin Bartee and fire Capt. Joseph Bonnell for 80 hours each, and suspended Deputy Fire Chief Mike Ong for 40 hours.”

  • Fire department failures:

Fire-prevention leadership fundamentally do not understand their responsibilities.

The fire marshal’s “preeminent duty” is “to enforce the Code to protect people and property,” according to the report. The code outlines specific duties the fire marshal must carry out when a fire-protection system is deemed out of service or impaired, which could include “issuing citations, imposing a mandatory fire watch, and (if appropriate) ordering the building closed.”

Fire Marshal Mike Abegg has argued that he bears no responsibility for the disaster. According to the report, Abegg said that even if he had seen the deficiency report, to him it only identifies maintenance concerns as opposed to “a life and fire safety hazard.”

Since the fire-detection and sprinkler systems were inoperable and the alarm panel had been turned off, it is possible the system would not have been able to put out a fire anywhere in the library, possibly leading to injuries and deaths if there had been a fire.

Abegg was demoted. The three employees who were suspended failed to implement the deficiency-reporting process or understand fire-code requirements and their responsibilities, according to the report.

What’s the takeaway for firefighters? Your responsibilities may extend deep into building maintenance issues, and when disaster strikes, you’re unlikely to have many friends in City Hall. Stay organized, enforce the code, and make sure you can trust whoever is tracking and monitoring issues involving sprinklers, fire detection and other Life Safety Issues.

FULL DETAILS from can be read HERE.