HOUSTON -- The Houston Fire Department’s Fire Marshal is confident and certain when it comes to your children and fire safety.
"Our schools are the safest in the City of Houston,” Executive Assistant Chief Richard Galvan said.
How does he know?
"Because we have a very good inspection program,” he said.
In fact, Galvan claimed it’s more than just “good”.
“We're doing a great job, look at our record,” he said. “We are meeting our standards.”
The only problem? The 11 News I-Team spent weeks looking at that record and came to a very different conclusion.
For example, take how often HFD should inspect local schools.
Galvan: "Our goal is every two years, we're meeting that goal.”
I-Team: “You're not.”
Galvan: “We are meeting that.”
I-Team: “And people at home are supposed to believe you?”
But the Fire Marshal is absolutely wrong, according to his own department’s record. It’s putting Houston children at risk--116 public and private schools under HFD’s watch have not been inspected in the past two years.
When the I-Team confronted Galvan about it, he suddenly changed his tune.
"The two years is not etched in stone, it’s a goal," Galvan said.
“A goal of every two years--it could be two and a half years,” he said.
But compare that to other Texas Cities, like Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, which all have a standard to inspect every school once every year.
And HFD’s records show delays can spell danger. That’s because when inspectors did finally return to look at some of the area’s unseen schools, they found:
Missing fire extinguishers at 111 public and private schools.
Missing smoke detectors at 29 others.
No fire drills at nearly 44 Houston schools
49 schools with had emergency exit doors blocked or locked.
"There's a great risk there," said John Kauffman, a veteran in the fire suppression system industry who sits on the National Fire Sprinkler Association Board of Directors.
"You've got to get the building vacated, you've got to get it emptied and you've got to get it emptied as quickly as possible," Kauffman said.
But that's not the worst of it.
The I-Team also found 29 public and private schools had alarm systems that had been red tagged--meaning an important piece of equipment didn't work the way it should.
I-Team: "If the alarm panel is red tagged, if there's a fire, is it going to go off?”
Kauffman: “It might, it might not.”
I-Team: “Does it “might/might not” cut it in the world of fire safety?”
Kauffman: “No, not at all."
Take Jackson Middle School in Southeast Houston. If there was a fire, some students might not hear the alarm. Why? Because repeated tests have shown it wasn’t loud enough.
“That's dangerous, that's horrifying," said mother Gloria Verdin.
"Oh my goodness, I did not know that," added mother Yolanda Bustos. She didn't know that that part of the alarm system had been red tagged for almost a year.
"Man I can't believe that,” said mother Marina Ramirez. "They had all summer long to fix it, how come they didn't fix it?”
So what’s the response from Houston Independent School District?
"We're not yet where we need to be at Jackson and so we're still working on it," said HISD Spokesperson Jason Spencer.
While Spencer acknowledged the problems at Jackson Middle, he said HISD is taking proactive safety measures district-wide.
"When we got your questions, we wanted to make sure we were dotting our “i's” and crossing our “t's,” Spencer said.
As a result, Spencer says the district sent its own safety inspection team to every one of its schools, nearly 300 campuses, to identify and fix anything that needs fixing.
He added HISD is not going to wait for the Fire Marshal to come around.
In the meantime, that Marshal insists everything is just fine.
Galvan: "I think we're doing a great job."
I-Team: “The person at home watching you and hearing you may say, ‘c'mon, give me a break, you're not getting in there, how can you say you're doing a good job?’”
Galvan: “Because we are doing a good job, I stand by my inspectors.”