U MEMO 24-04

Posted on Jan 5, 2024 in Informal Opinions - UIPA Opinions

U MEMO 24-04
January 5, 2024
Fire Inspection Records

The Honolulu Fire Department (FIRE-HON) denied access to fire inspection reports and other records relating to a condominium building on the basis that they were part of an ongoing investigation, and in some cases asserted that it did not maintain the records.  FIRE-HON eventually disclosed a later fire inspection report that included information from the earlier requested reports, but did not disclose the earlier reports themselves, and redacted most of the first names for fire inspectors and building representatives named in the report.  Requester asked that this appeal focus on records from 2019 to 2020, which include fire inspections and other records.

Regarding the fire inspections, OIP found that even assuming for the sake of argument that a fire inspection could be considered an investigation, each such investigation was concluded at the time the fire inspector filled out the fire inspection report and provided a copy to the building representative, regardless of whether the report reflected a finding of satisfactory or unsatisfactory status.  OIP further found that informing the public of a fire safety issue with a building whose representative has already been informed of the issue does not frustrate FIRE-HON’s ability to conduct fire inspections, and does not frustrate any other legitimate government function of FIRE-HON.  To the contrary, OIP finds that making such information public promotes FIRE-HON’s legitimate function of eliminating fire hazards and ensuring public safety, by better informing the public as to where hazards exist.  Moreover, fire inspection reports identify fire code violations, rather than investigating the cause of actual fires, and as such they are similar to building permit inspections required to be public under section 92F12(a)(11), HRS.  OIP therefore concluded that the frustration exception did not justify FIRE-HON’s denial of access to the fire inspection reports.

Regarding the partial redaction of names from records, although FIRE-HON did not provide any justification for withholding the names, OIP considered the possible applicability of the UIPA’s privacy exception.  OIP founds that the FIRE-HON inspectors and building representatives named in fire inspection reports do not have a significant privacy interest in their identities, and likewise do not have a significant privacy interest in the redacted portion of their first names.  OIP therefore concluded that the names of fire inspectors and building representatives could not be redacted from fire inspection reports based on the UIPA’s privacy exception, or any other UIPA exception.

Finally, OIP found that the other requested records were clearly government records subject to the UIPA and since FIRE-HON did not provide them for OIP’s in camera review and did not explain in what way they were part of an open investigation, FIRE-HON clearly failed to meet its burden to establish that those records were part of an open investigation.  OIP therefore concluded that FIRE-HON was not justified under the UIPA in withholding those records.