|Deputy State Fire Marshal Mike Zamantakis inspects the certification tags on gauges for the fire sprinkler system at Creekview Elementary last week. The system is designed to help students, faculty and other occupants of the building to exit safely without injury. Beyond dictating the use and inspection of suppression and alarm systems, the state has adopted rigid guidelines that inspectors are required to check.|
After Wasatch Junior High was destroyed by fire last year, many people in Carbon County and across the state have wondered what Utah is doing to protect the investment by local communities in schools.
In Carbon County, the responsibility for school inspections falls on Helper Fire Chief Mike Zamantakis. The Helper chief is also a state deputy fire marshal.
As part of routine inspections at Carbon School District buildings, Zamantakis checked two elementary schools in Price with Paul Bedont, chief of the Price Fire Department.
Zamantakis explained that schools are required to meet a high fire standard compared with many other building in the county.
The reasons for the stricter codes stem from the fact that the buildings are used by a high number of students and a limited number of adults are present at any given time.
As a result, all schools in the state are supposed to be inspected on an annual basis by the state fire marshal or deputy.
As part of the inspection process, the local fire chief is asked to assist.
In Carbon district, Sid Larson, who is a firefighter in Price and a school maintenance employee, works with inspectors.
The Helper and Price fire chiefs pointed out that the district will be able to see some cost saving in the future because Larson is completing his training to check fire extinguishers and certify that the devices are adequately pressurized and charged
In other cases, the district would be required to have a private contractor certify fire suppression equipment in the public school buildings.
As the three inspected Creekview Elementary, Bedont pointed out that many of the fires that destroy school buildings occur outside of the hours of a normal school day.
For that reason, many schools have an alarm system that alerts the fire department when a blaze is detected.
In the past few years, schools in the district have seen an improvement in the area.
Until recently, the schools were connected to a commercial alarm system similar to the systems installed in homes.
The company had to detect the alarm and then notify the public safety dispatch center.
Bedont said the process in question could take as long as 10 to 15 minutes in some cases - precious time that firefighters could be using to save lives and protect the structure.
The district no longer uses the alarm company for fire detection and reporting.
|Students file out of classrooms at Creekview Elementary when a fire alarm sounds through the school. The drill was part of the annual inspection required by the state. Though most schools are generally cited for minor violations, Carbon School District's buildings have generally been up to code.|
Instead, the schools all have a direct line to the public safety dispatch office in Price.
When an alarm is triggered in the building, the system automatically alerts dispatch and firefighters are sent to the scene in a more timely manner.
As part of the annual inspection, Zamantakis observes how an individual school responds during a fire drill.
At Creekview, the time was approximately one minute from the time the alarm sounded to the time the building was evacuated.
In order to have such a response time, the schools practice fire drills on a regular basis. In elementary schools, fire drills must be executed on a monthly basis.
At junior high and high schools, drills are required once per term. In either case, the first of the drills must occur during the first two weeks of school, Zamantakis explained.
The inspection team also tests the sprinkler system in each school. They do this without triggering any of the sprinkler heads in the building.
At Creekview, Zamantakis checked the gauges at the point where water enters the building. Despite the certification, the gauges showed adequate pressure. He noted that one gauges was missing an inspection tag and the other was expired. He explained the two minor areas and are not enough to shut a school down. The systems needed to be checked, but would likely would perform adequately until the school certifies the equipment.
Unless the system is being serviced, water pressure is maintained at all times.
If the sprinkler system has to be taken out of service, the school district must notify the local fire department. A member of the department is then assigned to the school who will walk the halls and classrooms to make sure there are no fires that go undetected.
The system is fed by a direct connection to the water line into the building. But in the event that the water main fails or provides inadequate pressure, firefighters can connect hoses from their trucks to the building to pressurize the system and maintain an adequate supply of water.
Sprinklers are fitted with a glass bar that opens the head when it is broken. Each bar is filled with a liquid that expands in excessive heat and breaks the glass. The system works in conjunction with the electric detectors which sense smoke.
When a sprinkler is activated, a sensor in the system detects that water is flowing through the sprinkler, and activates the fire alarm.
Last week, the inspection team simulated the type of situation. Larson opened a valve that allowed water to flow through the sprinkler system. As a result, the alarm was triggered.
Once the alarm began to sound, students began to file out of the building. Zamantakis observed the drill and said that the students had done well, evidence that the school was having its monthly drills.
Meanwhile, the alarm system at the school called dispatch. Prior to the drill, Bedont notified dispatchers that the alarm would be going off for a drill. He asked the center to note the time the dispatchers received the call.
The inspectors then compared the time the alarm sounded at the school with when the call was received at dispatch to see if the dialing system was working properly.
In addition to the drill, the inspection team walked through the halls, inspecting fire extinguishers.
Zamantakis explained that one state requirement limits the number of posters or displays that can be displayed in halls or classroom walls. The fire code conflicts with practices that urge teachers to display students' work and use visual aids. He said there has to be a balance between the two.
The team also inspected the kitchen. Within the past few years, the state changed requirements for fire suppression systems in cooking areas. The systems are mounted in the hoods above stoves and cooking areas.
Under the old guidelines, many kitchens had been fitted with dry systems. The problem was a limited amount of fire suppressant is loaded in the system. Once the supply was exhausted, the system was no longer functional, even if it hadn't finished putting out the fire.
Under the new guidelines, kitchens are fitted with wet suppression system using chemicals and water to extinguish fires. Even if the chemical is depleted, the water can help suppress flames and keep fires from spreading.
In addition to the suppression systems, the district has installed type K extinguishers in kitchens, which are specifically designed to battle grease fires.
After the inspection at Creekview, Zamantakis indicated there were a few areas that needed to be improved. But most were minor and the district would need to address the areas in the near future. He noted that various schools in the district have minor violations that will be corrected.
In his report, Zamantakis prioritized the violations needing immediate attention. None of the violations was severe enough to warrant closing the school.
Bedont pointed out that, while correcting the violations may cost money now, the district could save money in the long run and, more importantly, preserve lives.
The fire chief said he has heard members of the public complain that the rigid regulations cost taxpayers money. However, the protections help protect the lives of children and the investment of the school district in its facilities.