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When an elementary school in Durham, North Carolina, caught fire in the middle of the night last April, officials found it strange that the alarm did not sound or alert the local fire department.

It turned out that inspections of the alarm system had not been done, inspection records had been falsified, and a school employee now faces criminal charges. The months-long investigation into the incident also may have snared a deputy fire marshal for the county, who has been questioned about missing financial records and about having a conflict of interest because a close relative runs a fire inspection firm.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance announced last week that its investigators had charged Andrew Roesch, 56, of Durham, with failing to perform alarm tests at three schools in 2021, then falsifying inspection forms.

Roesch was the Durham Public Schools employee in charge of fire safety inspections. The man allegedly copied 2020 inspection information onto the 2021 inspection forms without actually performing the required tests, according to Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshall Mike Causey’s office said.

Photo courtesy of Durham Public Schools

The charges are exceedingly rare, said Barry Smith, safety officer and deputy communications director at the Department of Insurance.

While investigating the fire and the falsified inspections, the Durham County Fire Marshal’s office had to reinspect several schools, and decided it needed help, WRAL TV news in Raleigh reported. The office found that one of the inspection companies it contacted was owned by a family member of Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Mike Webb, the news station reported. Webb did not disclose the ownership arrangement, officials said.

The investigation also found that some financial records were missing from Webb’s office. Chief Fire Marshal Jason Shepherd told the news outlet that no records could be found to document whether fines had been paid after inspections at a county transit authority and a halfway house. The probe is continuing.

Shepherd could not be reached for comment Monday by the Insurance Journal.

Roesch resigned from the school district in May. He is due in court on Jan. 9.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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K-12

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