Fire drills lack­ing at city schools

District of­fi­cials take steps to make sure safety pro­ce­dures are fol­lowed

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Talia Rich­man

More than two dozen Bal­ti­more city schools did not ap­pear to have con­ducted the min­i­mum state-man­dated num­ber of fire drills last aca­demic year, ac­cord­ing to a re­view of drill logs by The Bal­ti­more Sun.

State code re­quires schools that are fully pro­tected by an au­to­matic sprin­kler sys­tem to hold five fire drills each school year, while schools with­out such sys­tems must run eight drills.

But records ob­tained by The Sun show that nearly 30 schools, about half of which serve ele­men­tary-age chil­dren, recorded less than five fire drills last year.

The school district re­cently rolled out an on­line sys­tem aimed at mak­ing it eas­ier for prin­ci­pals to sched­ule and record drills and for the sys­tem’s op­er­a­tions of­fi­cials to track them. This is the first year safety drills will be re­ported on­line in­stead of on pa­per forms handed over to the district of­fice each Novem­ber and April and then re­viewed bian­nu­ally.

City schools lead­ers will also con­duct monthly check-ins to en­sure prin­ci­pals are con­duct­ing timely safety drills as re­quired.

“We have to own up to the fact that we need to be very force­ful in re­port­ing this in­for­ma­tion and mak­ing sure we work with the prin­ci­pals as much as pos­si­ble in or­der to get them to be com­pli­ant,” said Keith Scrog­gins, the school district's chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

Dozens of schools also did not ap­pear to have held lock­down drills, bus evac­u­a­tion drills, shel­ter-in-place drills, and other re­quired safety drills last school year. Th­ese drills are held to prac­tice and eval­u­ate pro­ce­dures in the event of an ac­ci­dent, vi­o­lent in­ci­dent or se­vere weather.

Scrog­gins said he be­lieves that some schools did hold th­ese drills last year but did not ac­cu­rately record them. None­the­less, he said, the district must do bet­ter.

“The world to­day — there is so much go­ing on,” Scrog­gins said. “We need to make sure stu­dents and staff can be as­sured we’re fol­low­ing all safety reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments.”

The ma­jor­ity of school build­ings in the city aren’t fully pro­tected by au­to­matic sprin­kler sys­tems, mean­ing the state calls on them to con­duct a higher num­ber of fire drills.

“We are try­ing our best to up­grade all of our build­ings in terms of fire safety,” Scrog­gins said. “Some still have the an­ti­quated sys­tem — they do work, but they’re an­ti­quated. We’re work­ing ev­ery year to get funds to up­grade all the sys­tems in our schools.”

Re­cently there’s been “more com­pe­ti­tion” for those funds, he said. The state threat­ened in 2016 to with­hold mil­lions of dol­lars in school con­struc­tion money un­til the city com­mit­ted to in­stalling air con­di­tion­ing in all of its schools.

City school district ad­min­is­tra­tors re­sponded by an­nounc­ing a plan to cool all school build­ings within five years, though they warned that fire safety and other projects would have to be de­layed in or­der to pri­or­i­tize the air con­di­tion­ing projects.

“As we ac­cel­er­ate projects for air con­di­tion­ing, there’s less money that goes around for fire safety and other needs the school sys­tem has,” Scrog­gins said. “We’re try­ing to bal­ance that as much as pos­si­ble.”

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