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Fire marshal has an eye for detail in school tours

Mike Zamantakis checks the inspection tags on every fire extinguisher.

Sun Advocate associate editor

At the beginning of every school year, Mike Zamantakis grabs his pen and clipboard and visits every school in Carbon District. That means checking all the classrooms, hallways, kitchens, utility closets, and all the fire extinguishers and circuit breaker panels.

No door can remain locked to him on his rounds because Zamantakis, Helper Fire Chief and Deputy State Fire Marshal, does this to keep the school kids safe from fire hazards.

At a recent inspection at Helper Junior High, the tour began with a fire drill. Students and teachers had no idea it was coming, nor did they know what the chief did before the alarm went off. He had the school notify emergency services dispatch that the alarm would be going off because he wanted to test the whole system, including the signal to dispatch.

The drill came off without a hitch. Then it was time for the walk-through.

As he paced along the corridors, Zamantakis pushed every exterior door he came across. "The doors can't be chained or locked," he explained. "The panic bars have to work and the door has to open with 15 pounds of pressure."

As he checked out a utility closet, he inspected the shelves for hazardous chemicals. He opened the door to a circuit breaker panel and made sure every breaker was labeled.

In computer rooms, he studied the power cords leading to the machines. "You can't have extension cords for permanent connections. Extension cords are OK for something like a projector that isn't plugged in all the time.," he said.

In one classroom, he found boxes stacked on top of wall cabinets. That's a no-no. "You need two feet of clearance below the ceiling. If there's a fire, those boxes could ignite and spread into the ceiling. If the fire gets into the ceiling, you lose the building."

The tour continued into the basement boiler room.

Fire extinguishers need to be tested regularly and tagged. All the tags showed they had been.

One breaker panel box in a locked store room was missing a latch. "That's easy to fix," Zamantakis commented.

Once the inspection is complete, the chief briefs the school administration and sends the report off to the state. Helper Junior High did very well this time around.

Zamantakis has been doing this for years, and he said he has seen improvements across the board.

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