The Architect of the Capitol received five "serious" citations from congressional investigators yesterday for failing to maintain fire alarms and electrical equipment in the Library of Congress's Madison Building, failures that the investigators said put lives at risk when a fire broke out in the building on April 30.
The congressional Office of Compliance issued the citations in the wake of the April 30 fire, which seriously injured one electrician who was working in the building's sub-basement level. The building is one of the Library's main research facilities, housing countless precious documents.
Fire alarms did not sound during the fire and power went out in one-fourth of the building, forcing some people to evacuate in total darkness. Police officers who otherwise would have been helping with the evacuation instead had to manually pull fire alarms throughout the building.
The fire took place just two days after Madison officials canceled a planned fire drill when the alarm system would not function.
In addition to citing the architect's office for failing to keep the alarm system in working order, the compliance agency issued citations to the architect's office for:
* Not properly maintaining circuit breakers.
* Failing to de-energize live electrical parts before employees worked on or near them.
* Not training employees in proper safety procedures for working on electrical equipment.
* Not maintaining a proper smoke control system in the Madison Building.
The failure of the circuit breakers to trip was one of several possible causes of the fire, the citation says, along with the design and age of the electrical equipment.
The citations carry the weight of law and require the architect's office to follow "abatements" to remedy the problems within a strict time frame, which varies from seven days to fix the alarm system to 90 days to fix the smoke control system. The citation for the electrical equipment requires that the architect's office contract with an outside lab to test and make sure that the equipment won't cause any further fires.
"What we are telling them to do is to call an independent lab, do the maintenance they are supposed to do, have it tested and maintained every year and comply with the findings of the lab," said Gary Green, general counsel of the compliance office.
The compliance office conducted its inspection of the Madison Building following a request from four unions representing federal employees concerned about safety conditions there.
Saul Schniderman, president of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, one of the four unions, said alarm systems have a history of failing throughout the library complex. He expressed hope that the new citations might have an impact. "The AOC [Architect of the Capitol] has a reputation for being excellent in corrective maintenance, but very, very, poor in preventative maintenance," Schniderman said.
A spokesman for Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
The citations are just the latest in a series of setbacks for the architect's office, which has been repeatedly cited by the Office of Compliance for various workplace safety violations.