Accident prompts audit of inspection process

City to review how life-safety systems tested

The city will conduct a comprehensive audit of its building inspection process after a Tonganoxie youth was seriously injured in an incident at a newly constructed Lawrence dentist office.

City commissioners were told at their Tuesday evening meeting that the city will review how it conducts and verifies a variety of life-safety inspections that are required as part of the building process.

“We’re obviously very serious about ensuring that life-safety systems are in place and are inspected prior to use,” said Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services.

The audit comes after allegations that an improperly installed medical gas system was to blame for a March 30 incident that left Tonganoxie High senior Austin Stone in a near comatose state. Stone was having his wisdom teeth removed at Dr. S. Kirk Vincent’s new dental office at 4811 Bob Billings Parkway when complications ensued.

The medical gas system is used to deliver oxygen and nitrous oxide. Vincent — in a letter to the city’s building inspection’s department — wrote that the accident was caused by improper installation of the medical gas lines, in which the individual manifolds used to connect the oxygen and nitrous oxide were transposed.

McCullough has confirmed that the city does not have a record of whether a required third-party inspection of the office’s medical gas system was conducted. But the city also has maintained it was not legally required to ensure such an inspection took place. Instead, it maintains that the code requires the private contractor to hire an inspection company to test the system, and then provide the building owner with certification that the test was done. Vincent said he was never provided with such certification, and was unaware that he should have received such certification.

Following the accident, the Journal-World conducted a review of how other area cities inspect medical gas systems, and found several cities require more thorough documentation than Lawrence.

On Tuesday, City Manager David Corliss told commissioners the city would conduct its own review of how the city should process a variety of key life-safety building inspections. The audit will review the best inspection practices of other cities, consult with International Code Council officials, and seek the advice of the city’s various advisory boards that oversee the myriad city building codes.

“We want to be comprehensive,” Corliss said. “It probably will be an ongoing process.”

McCullough said the department already has changed its policy regarding how medical gas inspections are handled. He said the city has created a new policy that the city must receive a copy of the medical gas inspection report before the city will issue an occupancy permit for the building.

McCullough said he will ask the city’s Board of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters in May to formally add that policy to the city’s plumbing code.

According to a Web site maintained by friends and family of Stone, as of last week, Stone was still at Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., in a largely unresponsive state.

Family members previously have declined to comment directly on his condition.

In other city business, commissioners:

• accepted a recommendation from a study group that the city begin converting its public transit fleet over to a system that uses a mixture of traditional diesel and biodiesel fuels. The city also agreed to move ahead on purchasing two hybrid electric buses that will run on a combination of traditional diesel, biodiesel and electric-powered batteries. City commissioners later this summer will take final action to purchase the buses, which could arrive in about 18 months.