The University of Georgia Environmental Safety Division has found a solution to replace the numerous expired fire extinguishers on campus.
The same day The Red & Black published an article detailing the extent of expired fire extinguishers on campus, the division found a way to pay to make them up to date again.
“When [The Red & Black] first brought it to our attention — that’s when we first starting working with them as far as a temporary fix,” said John McCollum, the associate vice president for environmental safety.
According to a survey of the campus, in which The Red & Black checked a total of 57 fire extinguishers in the labs, classrooms and hallways of 19 buildings, 46 of them were expired and have not been checked in more than a year.
Buildings that house the expired extinguishers range from labs holding chemicals, such as the Chemistry Building, to highly populated study areas such as the Zell B. Miller Learning Center, the Tate Student Center and the Main Library.
And, this has not gone unnoticed by the Office of Fire Safety at UGA.
“Yes, I am very well aware of it, and I’m trying to get it corrected,” said Russell Dukes, fire safety manager of the Environmental Safety Division at UGA.
Many campus science buildings that house expired fire extinguishers are at high risk for spills of hazardous materials, according to the UGA Emergency Operations Plan of 2008. A spill is highly probable because of “the nature of research ongoing at UGA” as well as construction and fuel deliveries.
There have been spills in the past at the Wilson Pharmacy Building (2003), which caused a fire, the Environmental Health Sciences Building (2005), the Chemistry Building (2005), the Forestry Resources Building (2006) and the Life Science Building (2006).
All of these at-risk buildings are now equipped with expired fire extinguishers.
The fire extinguishers are up to date in the dining halls Village Summit Dining Commons and Oglethorpe Dining Commons and the residence halls Lipscomb Hall and Creswell Hall.
Large research buildings — the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies and the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center — as well as the Georgia Museum of Art also held expired fire extinguishers.
A fire extinguisher goes through two types of inspections to ensure it is in proper working order.
One, performed periodically throughout the year, requires a check of the pressure gauge and the exterior to make sure it hasn’t been damaged. UGA has one employee in charge of these inspections.
The second, performed annually, is done by a contracted company to make sure the extinguisher is still functioning properly. It is this check that renews its expiration date, and it has been skipped for many of the 7,522 extinguishers on campus.
UGA contracts this inspection out because it lacks the necessary equipment, which makes sure it would work in case of a fire, McCollum said.
“It’s ultimately obviously UGA’s responsibility, but we do it through our own staff and also utilize our contractor to handle that inspection,” McCollum said.
If the check is neglected, no one can know if they might malfunction.
“They will typically work unless something has gone wrong with them, but that’s the reason we do annual checks is to catch the ones that something has gone wrong with them — we get them fixed,” Dukes said.
Performing this inspection and replacing fire extinguishers in every building on campus is a yearlong process, Dukes said. Each building gets a new set of extinguishers all at one time, so if a few are expired in one building, it can be assumed they are all expired.
Now, with a temporary fix in place on Tuesday, the department will bring in the company Peachstate to begin testing the expired fire extinguishers.
“Resuming the annual inspections that they were previously doing — so they’ll start back with the ones that it’s been the longest period of time since we’ve been to we’ll go to those buildings first and begin bringing those inspections back up to date,” McCollum said Tuesday.
Because the inspections will be performed building by building, though, it will take months to renew all of the extinguishers.
The extinguishers have been neglected, Dukes said, because he is waiting to hire a company to inspect and replace the extinguishers until the Procurement Office at UGA approves the contract for the work.
“I am waiting for that to happen before I can let the contractors do the work, so that’s what we’re waiting on and we’re several months behind on that,” Dukes said.
Dukes said he formed the contract and sent it in for approval almost a year ago — in June 2013.
But, the fire extinguishers in the Wilson Pharmacy Building, which have been expired the longest, passed their expiration date in July 2013, just one month after the contract was filed.
“Action has been taken to correct it, but I have to wait on the process,” Dukes said.
Annette Evans, the procurement officer at UGA, said that her office has handled the contract through the process of offering the work out to public companies and finding the lowest bidder who is “responsible and responsive” to what UGA needs.
Davis said her office will choose a company to perform the inspections she hopes “maybe within the next several weeks,” she said.
But, she was not aware that there was a safety issue at risk as a result of the length of the process.
McCollum said while he didn’t personally know the extinguishers were expired, he realized this process had slowed down.
“That’s been slowed down for reasons that I don’t know the particulars,” McCollum said.
The length that a contract must be publicly made available is regulated by the state and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, Evans said.
As of now, without a contracted company lined up, there is no renewal set in sight for the expired fire extinguishers.
If she had known, she said, the Procurement Office could have tried to work out a solution to the expired fire extinguishers.
“We’re here to serve the needs of our customers, which are the campus, and we try to convey to our end users that they’re always welcome to come to us and talk through the process and say, ‘Is there any way to expedite this?’ Or, if ‘x’ happens what steps can be taken in the interim until a contract is in place,” Evans said.
The department took advantage of this offer on Tuesday, following the publication of a Red & Black article.
“We worked with procurement over the past couple of days to get approval from them to go ahead an utilize a different method of payment,” McCollum said.
The contract is still in the works, but now UGA is giving the department money to begin inspections as soon as possible.
“We’re about to get back on our schedule for getting back on our inspections on time and getting all the ones that are expired back to the current date so it really resulted in a good fix for us,” McCollum said Tuesday.