Maui jail pays fine for faulty fire alarm panel

‘At no time were inmates at risk,’ public safety spokeswoman says

An inmate and correctional officer walk along Maui Community Correctional Center fencing in 2017. The state Department of Public Safety operates the Wailuku jail and recently paid a fine for a faulty fire alarm panel. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui Community Correctional Center paid a reduced $8,150 penalty last month for not testing a fire alarm panel and for an either deactivated or turned-off fire alarm panel at the Wailuku facility, a state spokeswoman acknowledged.

On June 27, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division issued $16,300 in penalties for the Maui jail operated by the state Department of Public Safety. The penalties were reduced to $8,150 and paid to the safety and health division on July 31, said Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Public Safety Department.

Schwartz said that “at no time, were inmates at risk,” and issues with the system had no impact on the fire suppression system throughout the facility.

As of earlier this month, the facility housed 451 inmates, Schwartz said. The facility also has 167 employees, some of whom work in shifts.

According to the citation and notification of penalty from the labor department, MCCC incurred a “serious” violation when it was found that a fire control supervisory alarm panel was deactivated or turned off on April 11 and was left deactivated or turned off until at least April 17.

“While the fire alarm system was deactivated or turned off there were no specifically assigned approved fire watch personnel provided for all parties left unprotected by the shutdown, until the fire alarm system could be returned to service,” the citation said.

Another labor department citation noted another “serious” violation when a fire alarm panel was not tested at least annually by trained personnel.

Schwartz said the panel was turned off because it was sounding false alerts. The problem had no impact on the facility’s fire suppression system, she added.

The department was aware of the fire alarm panel problem early on. Schwartz said a service call was placed on April 13. A technician was able to identify replacement parts that were needed to fix a network malfunction in the central control panel.

“We are waiting on the parts to correct the networking malfunction,” she said.

She said the central control alarm panel malfunction had no impact on the sounding of fire alarms throughout the facility. The jail has functioning sprinklers.

“Security staff routinely do security rounds several times an hour to monitor activity of inmates in these areas. At no time were inmates at risk,” she added.

Now, the jail is conducting a fire watch for all other areas of the facility, meaning that security staff members are assigned to routinely conduct physical checks several times an hour to monitor, report and log fire safety conditions and the activities of inmates in these areas, Schwartz said.

As for the citation regarding the testing of the system, that has been addressed since the Public Safety Department entered into a maintenance contract on July 1, she said. Part of that contract included the conducting of the required annual testing and inspections.

She said the two labor department citations involved the central control and subcontrol fire panels.

On Oct. 17, 2016, the United Public Workers union filed a grievance with the state over not providing a safe work environment because the faulty fire panels were not repaired or replaced at the jail, according to a copy of the grievance.

The document says that the union and James Hirano, the warden at the time, were notified that 54 smoke detectors were offline; three fire alarm pull stations did not function properly; two fire alarm control panels did not function properly; and one alarm could not be reset.

Union representatives visited the jail in May 2017, Schwartz said.

The union representatives understood the fire system was being addressed through a capital improvement project, she said. The project is pending a start date by the contractor, she added.

On Sept. 21, 2017, a letter from UPW to the state Department of Human Resources Development says that the union withdrew the grievance.

But recently, the UPW filed another grievance over the fire safety system for still being deficient. It asks that replacements and/or repairs be made along with temporary hazard pay for union members, according to grievance forms.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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