ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - They're supposed to help put out a fire and possibly save lives, but the Fire Marshal's Office says one company is installing shoddy fire sprinkler systems that don't work and are unsafe.
Absolute Fire Protection of Albuquerque installed a fire sprinkler system at Andalucia Villas. It's a brand new, sprawling apartment complex at Coors and Montano. Residents started moving in late last year, and half of the 241 apartments are occupied.
One resident, who didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the luxury of having more than a half dozen sprinklers in her apartment was appealing.
"I loved that it was an added safety feature," the resident said.
But when the sprinkler system sprung a leak on Oct. 7, another company discovered major problems with the entire system.
"They went out to fix the leak and noticed there were a couple sprinkler heads that weren't connected to piping," said Cmdr. Scott Esposito of the Albuquerque Fire Marshal's office.
There were so many issues that the Albuquerque Fire Marshal's office deemed the sprinkler system unsafe.
"This is the first time as fire marshal that I've run across something like this," Esposito said.
The fire marshal's staff found gaps in the sprinkler system pipes, holes cut into walls where sprinklers were supposed to be hooked into a water source but were instead just sitting in the sheet rock. Fire inspectors also found screws and rocks wedged into the system.
"There were certain parts of the sprinkler system where ... if the sprinkler system were tripped it wouldn't trip the alarm, which is very dangerous," Esposito said.
"We just want to get the test complete and put it behind us," said Michele Thibodeaux, the Fairfield Property Management supervisor in Louisiana.
The Albuquerque Fire Marshal put Andalucia Villas on "fire watch." The office has five staff members patrolling the complex 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They'll keep watch until the sprinkler system is fixed.
"This is surprising and alarming for a brand new complex," the concerned resident said.
The fire marshal's office said it doesn't check every sprinkler head when they're installed -- that's too time consuming, and most sprinkler heads and piping are encased in the walls. Once a company completes the work and has a certification of completion, the fire marshal signs off on the project.
KRQE News 13 tried contacting Absolute Fire Protection and its owner, Antonio Hernandez. His phone is disconnected, he no longer lives at the house listed with his construction license, and and he told his clients he moved to Colorado.
Kaufman Fire Protection Systems in Albuquerque is doing the repair work at Andalucia.
"I don't know how he even got a license in the state of New Mexico," said Pete Newsted, Kaufman Fire Protection System's service manager. "It is a felony to do this, what he's done."
Kaufman's staff have been at Andalucia Villas for weeks repairing the system.
But they were also called in to fix the sprinkler system Absolute Fire Protection installed at Turtle Mountain Brewing in Rio Rancho.
"He did shoddy work, and he lied to people, and he misrepresented what he can do," said Nico Ortiz, the owner of Turtle Mountain Brewing.
Kaufman came in last month and found disconnected pipes, others not installed correctly and sprinkler heads glued to the walls and ceiling.
"When they were boring holes through the walls to put the pipes, they would bore holes and they would be like: 'Oops.' And then they would put another hole right next to it," Ortiz said.
Turtle Mountain Brewing paid $20,000 for Kaufman to fix the system.
"The best lessons to be learned in business are the ones that cost you money, and this one cost me money and I will not make this mistake again," Ortiz said.
The restaurant just passed its inspection by the fire marshal.
But that's not the case yet at Andalucia Villas. Kaufman is expected to finish its repairs by the end of the month.
"You have a smoke alarm system and so forth that will still operate," Newsted said. "So it's a possibility that people could still hear it and get out. Personally I'd rather have the water hit me in the face, thank you."
The Albuquerque Fire Marshal's office said it will send its case to the New Mexico Attorney General's office to see if charges should be filed. The New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department spokesman says his office has no complaints filed against Absolute Fire Protection. But a Rio Rancho man contacted KRQE and said in 2014 he paid Hernandez $2,000 to install a sprinkler system. He said Hernandez took the money and didn't do the work. The court ordered Hernandez to pay $2,469.67 and continues to accrue interest until he pays. The victim says he filed a complaint with New Mexico Regulation and Licensing.
Absolute Fire Protection has an active license in New Mexico.
You can file a construction complaint with the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.