Inspections Reveal Potential Fire Dangers at Schools

Broken and Missing Smoke Detectors, Blocked Exits, No Fire Sprinklers Put Kids at Risk

Fire safety inspections can save a child's life. Every day in schools from Oceanside to El Cajon and National City, trained inspectors check fire safety in classrooms and school auditoriums.

On a recent inspection at Chollas-Mead Elementary in San Diego's Chollas View neighborhood, San Diego Fire Rescue Capt. Maria Cabrera found the pathway to a fire extinguisher blocked by a bookshelf. Capt. Cabrera had school staff move the bookshelf, then checked the inspection date on the fire fighting device, to make sure it was fully charged and up-to-date.

Inspections like that help spot fire hazards before disaster strikes.

Capt. Cabrera also found a classroom with too much paper hanging from the walls and ceiling. While teachers say  the decorative paperwork makes a fun and exciting learning atmosphere for young students, it's a definite fire hazard if flames were to erupt in that classroom.

"Because if it catches on fire, then it catches something else on fire, and creates a little more of a fire hazard," Capt. Cabrera said.

Parents were surprised to learn that fire inspectors frequently find problems at local schools. Inspection records reveal that fire extinguishers were not properly serviced or accessible at Lexington Elementary in El Cajon. At Bayview Terrace Elementary in San Diego, an extinguisher was missing from a classroom. And at Chula Vista Hills Elementary, copies of the school's emergency evacuation plan were not available for review by fire safety inspectors. There was also no record of monthly fire drills available for inspection.

Oscar Wilson, whose child attends a South Bay school, said he was "kind of shocked, because we think kids are safe in school, and they're not."

The violations are usually fixed on the spot, with help from inspectors. Those inspectors also take time to educate teachers and school staff about the fire regulations, so those violations don't happen again.

State law requires local fire departments to inspect both public and private schools at least once a year. But records indicate that the Chula Vista Fire Department is not keeping up with that required inspection schedule. Some of the district's schools have not be inspected for five years or longer. The Chula Vista fire department says it simply does not have the staff to keep up with those mandatory inspections.

Local school districts said they appreciate the work done by fire inspectors, and work hard to quickly correct any violations, and make sure the problems don't happen again.

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