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Fire Truck that Doesn't Fit into Station Among the Problems Exposed by Federal Audit

Oct. 11, 2005 –– The V.I. Fire Service did not take into account the size of a new fire truck when it finalized a contract for the Tutu Fire Station, said the U.S. Inspector General's office in an audit report issued Tuesday.
The report indicates the station's bays were too narrow for the truck because the specifications did not include moving the existing structural columns to accommodate a wider truck. When firefighters tried to put the new truck in the garage in December 2002, they damaged both the truck and the structural columns.
The fire truck doors could not open and the firefighters didn't have room to climb aboard the truck.
The auditor notes that precious time could be lost during a fire emergency while firefighters wait for the truck to be driven completely out of the bay before climbing on.
Fire Service Director Merwin C. Potter could not be reached for information on if or how the fire station issue was resolved.
The audit also indicates it cost the Fire Service $24,149 to pay four contractors for uncompleted construction work on its facilities because the fire department as well as the Public Works Department did not adequately oversee construction contracts.
The entire contract amount stood at $1.2 million.
According to the audit report, the Fire Service paid $2,156 for work not done at the Frederiksted fire station. The figure broke down to $900 for a nonexistent roll-up door and $1,256 for plastering work that wasn't completed. The contractor charged and was paid for refurbishing six roll-up doors at $900 per door although the station had only five.
The Fire Service paid $6,096 for two vehicle exhaust systems and $794 for two windows that were not installed at the Grove Place fire station.
The department paid $6,096 for two vehicle exhaust systems that were not installed at the Cotton Valley Station.
At the Charlotte Amalie station, the contractor received an advance of $9,007 to buy roof repair materials but did not do an adequate job. The substandard job meant the Fire Service had to spend more money to repair water damage. Fire Service terminated the contract for nonperformance, but the roof still needs repair.
The audit indicates that the project manager could not explain how the discrepancies occurred at the Frederiksted fire station, but did not address the discrepancies at Grove Place and Cotton Valley stations.
The Fire Service failed to assess what the audit termed liquidated damages of $57,500 for work that was not completed on time. According to the audit, Fire Service should collect $100 per day for late work. The Frederiksted fire station project was 253 days late, while one at Richmond was 192 days overdue. The Cotton Valley project came in 87 days late, one in Tutu was 34 days overdue, and one at Grove Place was nine days late for completion.
The department did not seek competitive bids for a $55,000 training contract as required under the terms of its federal funding, did not provide supporting documentation for $24,000 in federal grant expenditures and failed to effectively use grant-funded equipment worth $72,331.
The audit indicates that a well water system installed at the Cotton Valley fire station with $51,868 in federal funds was unfinished and unused for more than two years and the station's generator was unused for 17 months.
When the auditors visited in January 2005, the well had been drilled and the plumbing and electrical work installed, but it wasn't connected to the newly-purchased emergency generator. The fire chief indicated to the auditors that the generator building was not yet built although requests for proposals were sent out to three companies in September 2004.
Potter responded to the auditors on Aug. 11 that the shed had been built, but the project still needed an electrical hookup. He wrote that he anticipated it would be done by Aug. 30.
Additionally a $10,179 hose washer and a $10,284 hose dryer purchased for St. Croix in April 2002 with federal funds were still in their original wrapping as of January 2005.
Potter said in his response to the auditors that the hose washer and dryer are not at the Frederiksted fire station. The room to store the items was identified and cleaned, but still needed a roof. He anticipated the project would wrap up by Sept. 30.
The auditors recommended that the Fire Service director appoint an in-house manager to participate in the planning, supervision and monitoring of future construction projects. Additionally, the auditors suggested that the department collect the $57,500 assessments for overdue construction work, stick to federal grant regulations, and submit the required supporting documents for federal grants. Additionally, the auditors suggested that the Fire Service prioritize its needs so it can spend federal grants on its immediate needs.
In Potter's response to the auditors, he said he could not locate supporting documents for the $24,000 spent on the 2000 U.S. Agriculture Department Cooperative Volunteer Program grant. The auditors referred this problem to the federal agency for follow up.
Potter wrote that Donald Charles was appointed the territory-wide property manager to oversee projects and repairs. Additionally, financial administrator Paula Douglas will review contracts with the goal of collecting liquidated damages by November 2005.
Potter wrote that the deputy chief of training and the grants manager will make sure the department adheres to grants regulations.
And he said that since November 2004, the department has been prioritizing its needs.

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