Crofton Middle is cited for fire code violation; Strobe lights to alert deaf were not working


A county fire inspector cited Crofton Middle School Tuesday for violating the state fire code because strobe lights attached to fire alarms to warn deaf students of danger were not working.

Firefighters called to the school because of a natural gas leak issued the citation and a repair order on the spot, Battalion Chief Martin P. Pardoe said yesterday. School officials said they did not know whether the lights had been repaired yesterday.

Fire inspectors opened an investigation into the school's evacuation procedures Tuesday after students took longer than six minutes to get out of the building. Although neither fire nor school officials set a time limit for evacuating, records show the longest it had taken Crofton Middle students to evacuate during fire drills this school year has been just under four minutes.

Pardoe said the department began the investigation because students were still in the school when the first units arrived on the scene just before 10: 30 a.m. He said that is the first time that has happened at a school in recent memory.

"It's an aberration. If there's a breakdown in a component, we want to find out what it is so we can take corrective action."

Area Superintendent Ken Nichols said the evacuation might have taken a little longer than he would have hoped, but that it was done in an appropriate time, given the circumstances. Students were told to evacuate over the public address system rather than by a fire alarm, and they were allowed to get their jackets.

"They were probably all out of the building by nine or 10 minutes," Nichols said."

Students were ordered out of the building twice Tuesday because of fumes. The second time, the fire chief "did not find that evacuation was particularly long," Nichols said.

Crofton Middle School is on a list of schools due for annual fire inspections, Pardoe said. It was last inspected in February and never has been cited for major violations, he said.

The last inspection report showed the school received violation notices for placing door stops on fire doors and stacking boxes too close to ceiling sprinklers.

"We purposely try to wait until after school has started," said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Ray, a former county fire marshal. "Some of the fire code violations are actually things that are created when teachers start moving in."

One thing fire investigators will be looking into is reports that the fire alarm system in the portable classrooms was not working. Nichols said that is why Principal Richard Berzinski used the public address system to announce the first evacuation. Although Berzinski used the fire alarm for the second evacuation, Nichols said yesterday that he was not sure whether the alarm for the portables worked.

Pardoe said fire officials were not aware that the portable alarm might not have been working. He said schools are required to notify the Fire Department if the entire alarm system is not working and that it could be a violation if the department is not notified.

Had fire officials been notified, the school would have been ordered to devise an alternate plan to alert students, Pardoe said, and that plan could have included use of the public address system.

Sun staff writer Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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