Audit: Baltimore fire department didn't meet goals for installing smoke alarms

A new audit of the Baltimore fire department says the agency fell short of meeting its goals for installing smoke alarms — and then retroactively altered the goals in budget books to look better.

The audit, conducted by acting City Auditor Audrey Askew, who reports to Comptroller Joan Pratt, examined the agency’s performance in installing free smoke alarms for city residents in recent years.

In 2016, the audit found, the agency’s goal for installing smoke alarms was 19,000 — but the department installed just 15,889. After not meeting the goal, the agency then changed the 2016 target in subsequent budget books from 19,000 to 16,500, the audit reported.

Auditors recommended the fire department “identify the causes and develop a corrective action plan for the number of smoke alarms installed that did not meet the established performance measure target.” They also told the department that performance goals “should not be changed in subsequent year Budget Books without adequate disclosure in order to avoid misleading performance results.”

In a response to the audit, Fire Chief Niles Ford wrote that the department would avoid retroactively changing goals without budget office approval. He said there was “no identifiable cause” for why that happened.

“The difficulty the department faces with exact target/actual numbers lies with residents requesting installations, i.e., BCFD cannot predict how many requests will be made,” he wrote.

Despite not meeting the goal, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she was pleased with the agency’s performance installing fire alarms and expected it to improve.

“I know they’re out there every day, not waiting for fires to occur, knocking on doors,” she said. “I thought the numbers were still impressive. I’m sure we’ll see those numbers increase.”

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