State To Audit Fire Prevention In 2019

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Published: December 28, 2018 @ 6:00 PM EST

What started with a finding in the municipality’s annual audit this year has ended with the state agency Department of Community Affairs (DCA) giving notice that it will audit Fire Prevention next year. An e-mail from the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, a part of DCA, sent the notice earlier this month. This followed the 2017 annual audit prepared by Samuel Klein & Company, the municipality’s auditing firm, earlier this year. A finding was made noting that Fire Prevention did not maintain proper recordkeeping and that fire inspection revenues were not being collected.

That the Fire Prevention Department prepare or maintain a list of all establishments as specified under Chapter XXII Fire Prevention and Protections Section 22-1.13 New Jersey Uniform Fire Safety Code-Required Inspections and Fees as it relates to nonlife hazard use fees and ensures the annual fee is collected and properly recorded.

This lead to correspondences as well as meetings between members of the governing body and the municipality’s fire prevention bureau as well as the state which ultimately resulted in the bureau having an audit next year.

In speaking with Roselle Park Fire Department (RPFD) Chief Joseph Signorello Jr. in his capacity as a fire official who does inspections, he explained that the state mandates that all public or commercial properties that can accommodate many people – designated as a life hazard unit – have to be inspected. This includes schools, municipal buildings, restaurants, catering halls, churches. Then there are those considered non-life-hazard and inspections conducted for the Borough of Roselle Park. Fire Official Signorello stated, “The reason the town stuff hasn’t been done [is] because prior to me, Fire Official Bob Knapp or it might have been one of his inspectors or [it] might have been Mayor Joe DeIorio at the time decided that the small businesses in town were barely keep[ing] the storefronts open [and] to have them pay a fee of $50 to $200 to have the place inspected was a burden. Bob Knapp kind of felt strongly about that.”

According to Roselle Park Borough Code 22-1.13 (Required Inspections and Fees), fees for eating establishments for under 50 persons and take-out places are $25. The fee for professional use under 5,000 sq. ft. per floor is $25 and $50 for those more than 5,000 sq. ft. but less than 10,000 sq. ft. per floor.

We didn’t charge [when] we went in there . . . but we do have it on the books

Mr. Signorello reiterated that it was decided maybe eight or nine years ago that it would be a good thing not to charge business for the inspections. He stated that building familiarization was done and continued, “We didn’t charge [when] we went in there. I think it was a good idea. To a point, I still think it’s a good idea but moving forward we’re full speed ahead. In January – with regret – we’re going to start billing these businesses when we come and do an inspection. Is it a burden? Maybe, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Personally, in my heart, I don’t think it’s necessary, but we do have it on the books, and we’re going to move forward to do it. All those little businesses will get a bill, and the fire inspector will come and inspect it, and it’ll be done in 2019.”

Fire Official Signorello added that he would need another official “to help out because we’re going to quadruple the businesses.”

He also, in particular, discussed an incident, “Councilman DeIorio’s mom [Gilda DeIorio] had a fire call at her building one night. We went there and we took care of business. The councilman noticed that [she] didn’t get the fire extinguishers re-done and he was kind of bothered. He did what should have been done [asking] why wasn’t it done. I explained to him, ‘Joe I think years ago you told us to kind of back [down on fees].”

In response to the comment from the fire official, Councilman DeIorio flatly denied it, “I never told him not to charge. That would be like me telling them not to charge for . . . liquor licenses. I don’t have that authority [and] he doesn’t have the authority to do that.”

The councilman added that the conversation, which occurred during a fire prevention committee meeting and not that same night, was about annual inspections not being done on fire suppression systems as well as fire extinguishers for establishments that are not considered life hazard use. The councilman stated that he was using his mother’s business as an example for other similar small businesses in Roselle Park.

“My mom’s place hadn’t been inspected,” said Councilman DeIorio, “When I checked her [fire extinguisher] tags, they showed 2011-2012. That the last time they were inspected. It has nothing to do with fees or anything like that. That’s irrelevant. Fees have to be enforced . . . But the more relevant part is the inspections weren’t done . . . That scared the hell out of me.”

The fire official went on to discuss inspecting cosmetology establishments. He remarked, “Two years ago, the State Department of Cosmetology [who] used to come to nail salons, hair salons, beauty parlors, all of the above, and do an inspection . . . stopped doing it. I belong to the Union County Fire Prevention Association it was across the board [that] we needed to go there and do before they can get a CO and do an inspection.”

He explained, “When they call I go there, I give them an inspection. I was not charging them. It took me five minutes. I wanted them to prosper and open up. I get this salary as a fire official, and it was no problem to go there. This year we’re going to have to charge because mayor & council wants to do it which I understand, but part of me says I wish I didn’t.”

Mr. Signorello is paid $6,541.92 as a fire official. This amount is in addition to his salary of $11,135.60 as fire chief.

That signed government document certified that Fire Official Signorello inspected the business on July 17, 2017. The only problem is that Take Over Salon moved out of Roselle Park by 2015.

It was that discussion about inspecting beauty salons that brought up a question about one business in particular – Take Over Salon. There is a New Jersey Uniform Fire Code Certificate Of Inspection certificate for TakeOver Salon located on the corner of Columbus Place and West Westfield Avenue signed by Joseph Signorello Jr. That signed government document certified that Fire Official Signorello inspected the business on July 17, 2017. The only problem is that Take Over Salon moved out of Roselle Park by 2015. That property at 231 West Westfield Avenue was then a smoke shop until it became vacant once again and then opened up as MVB Barbershop in June of 2018. The certificate states that an inspection was conducted for a business that was not in existence in the borough at the time.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” responded Fire Official Signorello when asked about the inconsistency.

A review of all relevant government documents received through an Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, request showed that there were other inconsistencies but those were typographical errors such as ‘216’ instead of the year ‘2016’ in the Fire Prevention certificate for CITGO; no address for JP Auto Tech for the 2017 Fire Prevention Certificate; and the incorrect year (2016 instead of 2017) for ‘The Castle’ certificate. The one for TakeOver Salon appears to have been a made up document that goes beyond a simple typing error.

Fire Official Signorello went on to comment, “The paperwork is not perfect . . . The first ten months to a year I did not save the copies of the inspection reports because they weren’t [put] into our system. We thought it was going to be a temporary thing . . . The paperwork I’m going to come out and say is bad. That’s why I asked for an upgrade.”

Mr. Signorello was referring to the Spatial Data Logic automation program from SHI International Corp which was approved by the governing body as Resolution 372-18 at the December 20, 2018, Mayor & Council meeting. The $69,900 system will allow multiple departments’ information to be centralized, synchronized, and accessible among construction, fire prevention, financing, and other departments.

He said, “We going to state of the art [with] Spatial Data . . . The paperwork trail is not perfect, but it’s going to be . . . It’s full speed ahead. It’s going to be a rough couple of months . . . Is the paperwork perfect? No. WIll it be perfect? If I learn it and get it, it’ll be close to being perfect.”

A review of revenue for inspection fees since 2005 reveals an average of $7,236.08 since 2005 and $8,256.05 over five years.

Year
Revenue
2005
$6,593.27
2006
$6,416.47
2007
$8,387.92
2008
$5,342.67
2009
$7,262.77
2010
$5,088.20
2011
$8,016.12
2012
$5,681.32
2013
$8,441.22
2014
$10,443.89
2015
$6,791.56
2016
$6,353.43
2017
$9,250.15

Just using the past year, the expenses for the Fire Prevention Bureau was around $19,913.23 while collected $9,250.15 leaving around $10,000 in deficit. That amount could be made up in fees which could also be used to purchase a fire inspection truck which, at some point, could be rolled over into the fire department.

Putting the dollars and cents aside and even with an optimistic outlook for correcting issues, there is still the matter of fire safety not being addressed. It is the inspections that appear to not having been done. In particular a statement from Fire Official Signorello where he stated he would need another official “to help out because we’re going to quadruple the businesses” reiterates the fact that they were not being done previously. Then there is the apparently created government document certifying that a business that was not in in the borough in 2017 was inspected.

Beyond fees and recordkeeping, the issue of fire safety needs to be addressed.

“The whole point of fire prevention is to prevent fires. To literally go out there and make sure [they’re safe],” said Councilman DeIorio during his discussion.

The state audit for the Fire Prevention Bureau is scheduled for the middle of January. A copy of that correspondence is available below.


Download DCA Audit Correspondence (December 13, 2018)

Copies of Roselle Park Fire Prevention Certificates, as well as NJ Uniform Fire Code Certificates of Inspection for the years 2016, 2017, and part of 2018, are also included here.




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