An initial Orange County Health Care Agency investigation into the Garden Grove Fire Department confirms recent media reports that the department failed to conduct any hazardous materials inspections between 2011 and 2013.

According to the brief report, sent to city officials August 25, the fire department failed to conduct on-site inspections during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years.

The inspections recorded by the department as hazmat inspections, “were actually Fire Life Safety inspections,” according to the report.

The purpose of hazmat inspections are to verify what chemicals are stored on-site, the reported location of those chemicals, and what emergency procedures are in place in the case of a spill.

“Fire life safety inspections have a hazardous materials component, but focus on preventing fires,” said director of Environmental Health Denise Fennessy, who manages the county’s hazmat and other inspection programs.

The Health Care Agency’s regular three-year evaluation of the Garden Grove Fire Department in 2013 found that, because of a breakdown in staff training, the city was failing to properly conduct hazmat inspections, Fennessy said. When the coding inconsistencies in the city’s inspection database emerged in recent months, the county decided to do another review.

Asked whether the Health Care Agency found any intent to mislead on the part of fire department officials or staff, Fennessy said, “I’m not really sure that’s our role. Our role is to review the inspection process.”

According to the review, in early 2013 an employee in the fire department’s hazmat section was told by the staffer who had the job previously to code an inspection as hazardous materials where there was a fire life safety inspection.

“They were claiming to be unaware of the fact that they couldn’t [code] the fire safety inspection as hazmat,” Fennssey said, noting that even though the Agency informed the department that they were not properly conducting hazmat inspections in 2013, during the recent investigation “There was confusion with the process and what they were supposed to be considering [a hazmat inspection].”

Garden Grove was unable to provide a list of the locations where those hazmat inspections were conducted and now has until the end of September to provide a list.

The fire department also must go back and conduct the hazmat inspections, establish a standard procedure, and reevaluate the fee charged for inspections, according to the report.

The Orange County Register reported last month that the Garden Grove Fire Department in 2012 charged almost 100 businesses more than $150,000 for hazmat inspections that never were conducted.

Last week, the city of Garden Grove issued a statement saying the county’s findings “do not indicate deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the city.”

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