Changes called for at fire agency

LAWRENCEVILLE - Consultants are recommending more oversight, standardized procedures and more training and equipment to get the Gwinnett fire marshal's office back on track, after a controversy over school inspections led to the resignation of the fire marshal and the fire chief.

Fire and county administration officials are planning a press conference this week to discuss the findings of Hammett Consulting, but the Gwinnett Daily Post received a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report contains 59 observations and nearly as many recommendations to better train and equip inspectors as well as standardize operating procedures, charge higher fees for services and improve customer service.

A key recommendation is to establish an assistant fire marshal position to "develop the framework for operations and provide additional oversight and quality control" and hire five additional personnel to handle the workload.

"The Department of Fire and Emergency Services and County Administration should be commended for quickly taking action to address concerns at the Office," the auditors concluded. "Overall, the Fire Marshal's Office is heading in the right direction. Additional technology and staffing resources are needed to develop an appropriate framework for operations and address the inspections workload."

Officials declined to comment on the report prior to Thursday's press conference.

In February, Chief Jack McElfish resigned as head of the department and later the fire marshal and a captain in the department, resigned and an inspector retired amid an investigation that a couple dozen schools had missed inspections over the past five years.

All schools have since been inspected, and officials said students were never in danger.

During the audit, a team with Hammett Consulting interviewed and observed employees, reviewed procedures and conducted site visits to offices in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties.