Ky. School Fire Alarm Policies May Change in Wake of Parkland Shooting
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
March 05—The Owensboro Fire Department is gathering information for city and county schools, so the districts can determine whether they need to change their fire alarm policies for security reasons.
"We are working with the state Fire Marshal's Office, the Department of Education and the three school districts here," on the possibility of creating policies on what students and staff should do with a fire alarm sounds, OFD Chief Steve Mitchell said.
"There cannot be a blanket policy. It has to be by school," Mitchell said.
The issue of what to do when a fire alarm sounds at schools came to the forefront after the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Media accounts say the fire alarm had sounded during the incident. According to Time Magazine, reports that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pulled the alarm shortly before opening fire on students is unconfirmed.
Time reports a similar incident happened about 20 years ago at an Arkansas middle school, when a shooter pulled a fire alarm and fired at students as they exited the building.
Mitchell said if school districts decide to change their fire alarm plans, those plans would have be school-specific, because schools have different designs.
"The state is going to come out with an outline, saying, 'You have to work within these parameters,' and we'd say, 'The high school is built this way, so we'll do it this way,'" Mitchell said.
There are no specifics yet as to whether teachers would hold students in classrooms when an alarm sounds or what action they would take, Mitchell said.
"It is going to be such a culture shift in the fire service, because it has always been in the code that a fire alarm is a total evacuation," Mitchell said.
"It's going to be a whole new outlook, as far as how to hunt down the cause for alarms," Mitchell said. "... Fire, law enforcement, the schools and the (fire) code people need to work together to make this happen."
If a plan can be made for schools, city fire officials have talked about creating similar plans for other places, Mitchell said.
"We have discussed internally that this same type of system could be used for anything," he said.
Damon Fleming, director of student services for Daviess County Public Schools, said the idea of changing school fire alarm procedures came up before Mitchell approached the district.
"We discussed it in the district safety committee, 'Is that something we want to look at?'" Fleming said. The district is waiting to see what information the state Fire Marshal's Office provides.
"We are in the information-gathering stage," Fleming said.
If a change in plans were made, "we'd have to work with our fire department and other first responders," Fleming said, " ... and we'll have to retrain our staff and students. It would be a big process."
Nick Brake, superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, said district officials are willing to work on the issue.
"It's preliminary, but I think there are a lot of best practices being looked at, and we are open to that in this era of being hyper-vigilant," Brake said.