Inspector General Report Critical of Louisiana State Fire Marshal

November 16, 2012

A state inspector general’s wide-ranging report on Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning includes a finding that one of Browning’s inspectors failed to detect mechanical problems with a carnival ride in Greensburg hours before two teenagers were injured on the ride in May 2011.

The report says Browning publicly attributed the accident to operator error — even after learning of the possible inspection problem.

Browning’s office and Department of Public Safety officials dispute the findings in Inspector General Stephen Street’s report, including the assertion that Browning was told of the possible inspection error before he made the public pronouncement.

The inspector general’s report tracks several allegations forwarded by a watchdog group, the New Orleans-based Metropolitan Crime Commission, before Browning’s brief resignation from the job earlier this year. Browning quit in April but came back in May after state police investigated and said he had made no attempt to defraud the public or betray the public trust.

The inspector general’s report said an investigation after the 2011 Greensburg accident “confirmed mechanical problems with the ride, including a missing parking brake and improper controls, which existed when an inspection was performed earlier on the day of the accident.”

It also said that Byron Wade, who did the inspection before the accident, indicated the operator manual for the ride was on-site, when it was not.

The lengthy, detailed response to the report from Browning’s and the DPS notes that it was the operator’s responsibility to inform Wade of any modifications to the ride and that Wade would have stopped the ride from operating had he known of the modifications.

Among other findings in the report:

When Louisiana emergency responders went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after a May 2011 tornado, a fire marshal official who has since resigned instructed them to enter 18 hours on timesheets each day, regardless of their actual work hours.

The state response says overpayments were found in an audit weeks later and were returned by employees.

Browning signed forms that allowed three non-law enforcement employees to obtain firearms through a discount program for commissioned investigators, although the three had never been issued firearms to perform their duties and had not undergone necessary criminal background checks to get the weapons.

In the response, Browning said he signed forms in the belief someone on his staff “had exercised due diligence in regard to the buyback procedure.”

Browning improperly wore military ribbons he received for certain firefighting accomplishments while with the Gonzales Fire Department. The ribbons, which were purchased at a military surplus store for use in a program created by Browning, are identical to those used to recognize the U.S. military, the report says.

Browning has said he stopped wearing them after questions were raised.

The Inspector General’s Office report:

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