Park Service:

Agency Is Not Meeting Its Structural Fire Safety Responsibilities

T-RCED-00-253: Published: Jul 19, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the National Park Service's (NPS) structural fire safety efforts, focusing on: (1) whether the parks were meeting their structural fire safety responsibilities; (2) if the parks were not meeting their responsibilities, why not; and (3) what efforts were underway to address any identified problems.

GAO noted that: (1) structural fire safety efforts in national parks are not effective; (2) the structural fire activities at the six parks GAO visited lacked many of the basic elements needed for an effective fire safety effort; (3) these gaps included such fundamental things as inadequate fire training for employees, inadequate or nonexistent fire inspections, and--for many buildings--inadequate or nonexistent fire detection or suppression systems; (4) these situations led to many fire safety hazards; (5) GAO found fire extinguishers that had not been checked for years, overnight accommodations that had not been inspected by qualified fire safety people, cabins without smoke detectors, and visitor centers that did not have fire-suppression systems; (6) even when fire hazards are detected, they can go uncorrected for years; (7) these deficiencies occur principally because local park managers are not required to meet minimum structural fire safety standards and because structural fire activities have been a low priority within the agency for many years; (8) even though NPS issued policy to local park managers about how to address structural fire safety, park managers are not required to follow NPS' policy, nor are they required to meet a minimum set of fire safety standards; (9) instead, individual park managers are permitted to define the scope and emphasis given to the threat of structural fire; (10) GAO's work shows that structural fire safety is near the bottom of NPS' priority lists; (11) NPS has acknowledged problems in implementing its structural fire safety program and has begun a number of initiatives to address them; (12) these include: (a) developing new agency policies for addressing structural fire safety responsibilities; (b) placing specific minimum fire safety requirements on park managers; and (c) developing a process for structural fire inspections and performing assessments of structural fire risks at each unit of the national park system; (13) however, these initiatives have only recently begun; and (14) until these initiatives are completed, the safety of park visitors, employees, buildings, and artifacts are being jeopardized and are vulnerable to fire that could cause damage, destruction, severe injury, and even loss of life.

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