Glitch mars school fire drill

Alarm shut off too soon, test invalidated at John A. Cumber

The teachers and students made it to the safe zone in a reasonable time, but John A. Cumber Primary School failed last week’s fire drill because of a glitch in the test.

In a second try, the fire inspector noticed some staff members going about business as usual.

Tina Choy was inspecting the fire alarm systems at John A. Cumber as part of a required check for all public schools on island. The inspection includes a fire drill.

Problems are rare

“We rarely have problems at the primary schools.

The only primary school I had a problem with was Bodden Town Primary School,” Ms Choy said. “They were having some problems with their fire alarm panels.

At George Hicks, we had a problem with them exiting because they have so many false alarms. The last drill I did there late last year, half the teachers and students didn’t move.”

On Friday, Ms Choy and three other fire officials walked the grounds at Sir John A. Cumber, checking the fire alarms, extinguishers and exit emergency lights, and seeing to it that none of the emergency exits was blocked.

Fire extinguishers

All the extinguishers at John A. Cumber use ABC multipurpose dry chemicals – this type is filled with monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances.

“Some of the schools will just put them in every single classroom, but by code it is not required,” she said. “According to code, you should have no more than a 75-foot travel to a fire extinguisher.”

Ms Choy went into each classroom and checked to see whether the extinguishers had a tag to show that they had been serviced – all of them had been.

She also checked the tanks’ pressure gauges and the locks on the doors.

The drill

Ms Choy said the inspections are meant to make sure everyone exits in an orderly fashion.

“And they have a maximum of three minutes for everybody to be out. Once that is done, they should have someone with a placard to identify the person we would go to. And each classroom would do a head count, and they would have to report it to their fire marshal.”

For the drill, Ms Choy walked to the fire alarm closest to the parking lot and pulled the alarm.

The deafening ring echoed through the halls for 20 seconds before an employee of the company that provides the fire extinguishers shut it off from another panel – shortly after he had been instructed not to stop the alarm.

This nullified the test; Ms Choy will have to come back at another time. Although this test was invalidated, Ms Choy turned the alarm back on just to see the outcome of the test.

Students and teachers filed out of the classroom without incident and made their way through a gate in the chain-link fence and onto the football fields.

But as Ms Choy was walking around while the alarm sounded, she found some school staff going about their business as usual.

“We had other staff walking up and down like they’re not supposed to exit … and that’s not acceptable,” she told facility coordinator Ralph Smith.

“I’ll do whatever we have to do to bring it up to par,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith, too, noticed some flaws during the drill: “They have to do it with a little more urgency. Not running, but double-time.”

Principal Joseph Wallace said the drill went well. “It was the first one of the year. We did it in four minutes. The goal is to get it down to three.”