Former Inspector Says Downtown Condo Could Be Firetrap


Article Courtesy of WFTV.COM Channel 9

Posted July 15, 2005


A former city of Orlando fire inspector said some downtown condos could be a firetrap. The inspector said, when she brought up her concerns about The Grande Condominiums to city officials, she was fired. Now, she's suing the city and claiming someone on the inside was forging inspection records.

The city of Orlando is facing the lawsuit all because the former fire inspector said sprinkler systems in the downtown condo complex were never properly inspected. She said documents were forged and top city managers signed off on failed inspections.

The Grande Condominiums, on South Street in downtown Orlando, are home to hundreds of Orlando residents, but former city fire inspector Kathleen Barfield said problems she uncovered with the fire suppression system have been swept under the carpet. She discovered underground water feeds were never tested before the four buildings went up. She said she questioned her superiors in the city permit office.

"I was told that I needed to shut up and learn to get along, and roughly within 48 hours after that my contract was terminated," Barfield said.

Now Barfield is suing the city for wrongful termination and documents obtained by Channel 9 show there's reason for concern.

The city inspection report shows the underground water system was inspected by a company called Central Florida Tapping. But the man who owns that company told Channel 9 by phone that Central Florida Tapping never inspected the underground water lines. In fact, no one seems to know who signed the inspection report.

E-mail communications from 2002 show that the issue was under investigation in the city and with the State Fire Marshal. After Channel 9's inquiry, the State Fire Marshal's Office has re-opened its investigation.

Documents show former building official Ken Wagner approved the paperwork that allowed residents to move into the un-inspected complex. Wagner no longer works for the city and declined numerous interview requests.

Florida law requires residential property sellers to disclose anything detrimental about the property, but that's only if they know about it.

The Fire Marshal's spokesman told Channel 9 the agency "dropped the ball" during it's probe in 2002.

The city responded late Thursday afternoon and said they performed a second test on the water system and that Barfield's termination was unrelated to the documents she uncovered.

City Can't Show Proof Of Downtown Orlando Condo Inspection