The Los Angeles Fire Department has released the names of 4,000 city businesses alleged to be in violation of state law for failing to submit plans to deal with hazardous materials emergencies. But the accuracy of the list was disputed Tuesday by some of the companies on it.
A telephone survey of some of the businesses showed that their records and the Fire Department's disagree for a variety of reasons.
Star-Kist Foods Inc., for example, was listed as failing to file a plan as of July 1, the cutoff date for the non-compliance list.
"We believe we are in compliance," said Bill Fallon, Star-Kist vice president. "The address (in Fire Department records) is a back delivery door to an operating facility we sold in 1987." Star-Kist "submitted a business plan to the Fire Department on Feb. 16," Fallon said.
Just Received Notice
"We got the notice of violation today. It was the first time anybody had seen anything like this," said John Maatta, an attorney for Lorimar Telepictures, which has a video post-production site near Los Angeles International Airport and was on the list.
"The letter was addressed to 'Lorimar Telepictures' with no name on it," Maatta said. There are a couple of thousand employees. That makes it hard to track down. And we didn't get the original letter. Or whoever did get it, didn't respond. Or they did respond, and the Fire Department never got it."
The state law requiring the so-called "business plan" for hazardous materials was adopted in 1985 so that firefighters could learn of special and dangerous circumstances they might encounter when fighting fires at industrial and commercial sites.
The plans must specify the kinds of chemicals stored at the site and in what amounts, a map of their locations at the facility and an evacuation plan for workers. The deadline for filing a plan was Jan. 1.
In releasing the non-compliance list to The Times, fire officials cautioned that it may not be completely accurate, although it served as the department's mailing list for recent stern letters warning the companies to comply or face stiff fines.
"Due to the volume of plans being received. . . ," Chief Donald O. Manning said, "we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the list." About 40 new reports arrive each day, a fire official said. The department can process only about four or five a day, he said.
An estimated 8,000 companies are believed to be storing, using or creating hazardous materials in sufficient amounts to require an emergency plan.
The law requires businesses using hazardous materials--including such commonplace items as gasoline, cleaning fluids and tanks of oxygen--amounting to 500 pounds, 55 gallons or 200 cubic feet to file a plan and pay a fee that is used to finance the program.
Since the law went into effect, only about half the companies have filed plans. Of those filed so far, only about 50 have been thoroughly reviewed by fire officials. And fewer than a dozen have been inspected on-site and accepted, according to Battalion Chief Richard Anderson, who oversees the program.
Now that fire officials have sent warning letters to the 4,000 companies not in compliance, urging them to file by Aug. 4 or face stiff fines, an expected avalanche of plans is expected, and it could take two years to process those reports, Anderson said.
That means the task would be completed just in time for the second biennial filing deadline, when the entire process will begin again.
Some of the plans are massive documents filed in loose-leaf binders prepared by teams of safety professionals. For example, the City of Los Angeles Department of Airports has hired a private consulting firm to help with its accounting.
Others consist of a four-page "short-form" provided by the Fire Department.
And the experience of the department and the companies alike shows that the program can be a complicated, contradictory and sometimes unnecessary. The discrepancies are illustrative of the problems being faced both by the Fire Department and the companies.
For example, the Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie Co.'s factory in San Fernando, listed as out of compliance, was closed last month and the operation moved to Rialto.
An official of George Bailey Hat Co. told a similar story.
"We got letters from the Fire Department . . . one in January, and one we just received," said Vice President Chip Alexander. "We have not filed a new plan because the company was closed and is moving out of state. We closed last spring. They (Fire Department officials) knew we would be closing. The sale went through last year."
The National Guard, for instance, had no problem with preparing its plan, but it did have a problem figuring out what to do with it.