Finding Fire Hazards at a County Court Building

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - A detailed safety inspection of the old Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court building has turned up more fire hazards, including a fire alarm system and smoke detectors that don't work.

The state fire marshal's office also found gasoline and other combustible materials stored on the first, sixth and penthouse floors and in an exit stairway of the 26-year-old structure in downtown Albuquerque. The fire marshal's report, released last week, said the containers were removed.

The building's landlord - the state General Services Department - said it is working with fire marshal's officials to correct the problems. The department said officials have contacted a vendor about a fire alarm system.

The report also requires the installation of an automatic sprinkler system ''within a reasonable period.''

An extra security guard has been hired to look out for fires in the meantime.

The state Retiree Health Care Authority has been located on the second floor of the mostly vacant building since January, when the agency was forced out of its Santa Fe office after the Richardson administration slashed its budget. The agency plans to move in the next few months.

The office of the state chief information officer is expected to move in once repairs are done.

Inspections began in late August. The latest hazards were found in a Sept. 23 inspection.

The building was vacated when the metropolitan court moved early last year. A report from the fire marshal's office said state officials bypassed that office in getting a permit to reopen the structure.

The follow-up report by Paul Linville, the chief inspector, found new safety problems, and said some of them could make it more difficult for physically impaired people to get out of the building quickly.

His report said there was no emergency evacuation plan for second-floor occupants with physical disabilities and no area established for them to go if they need help evacuating; the main exit lacks an automatic door for disabled people; there's only one way out of the first-floor lobby because a new interior wall obstructs the other exits; and the stairwells and basement lack emergency lights.

The report said no emergency power was available to the elevators, which also had not had their required annual servicing; sparks were being emitted by a motor on the elevator system; and holes in the walls and ceilings would allow fire and smoke to spread through all floors.

Linville's report also said the main fire alarm control panel had not operated for years.