Are Fire Alarms Putting Students In Harms Way?

Are Fire Alarms Putting Students In Harms Way?

May 14, 2018

Some tragedies are so horrific they cause sweeping regulation changes to ensure they never happen again. School fires are one example. On December 1, 1958, the Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago caught fire and led to the deaths of ninety-two students and three nuns. Dozens more were injured while escaping the burning building. The fire received international attention and prompted a series of major changes and enhancements to the fire safety codes and regulations governing U.S. schools and other public buildings – many of which are still in place today, 60 years later.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire drills should be practiced at least once per month while school is in session. Most state buildings, including schools k-12, are required to have manual fire alarm systems. Most schools also have automatic sprinkler systems and smoke detectors to further ensure child safety and ensure everyone at a school is alerted in a potential fire emergency to get out of the building.

But when the goal of an active shooter is mass casualties, fire alarms are often used. In fact, in almost all school shooting evets in the U.S. the fire alarm was pulled to get students and teachers out of the classroom – the most recent being the Parkland, FL. Investigations into this school shooting event found that the fire alarm was intentionally pulled to cause widespread panic and chaos.

The first documented school shooting where the fire alarm was used to increase fatalities was in 1998 in Jonesboro, AR. Since this incident, fire dills and protocol have not changed even though there have been 100+ school shootings in the same time frame.

In active shooter situations, fire alarms pose more of a threat to students, teachers and faculty than safety. Fire alarms are loud and messages over school intercoms cannot be heard so even if administrators announced the type of the emergency it likely wouldn’t be heard. Students and teachers who have predicted these drills their whole lives so what they think they are supposed to do – get out. However, when they walk out of the safety of a locked down classroom and no fire exists they become a target for a school shooter.

Since 1999, there have been an average of 10 school shootings each year causing 375 deaths and injuries and affecting the lives of over 187,000 students nationwide.

If a single fire in 1958 could cause widespread changes in regulations to keep students safe, why hasn’t the any school shooting tragedy done the same? Part of the problem is regulation and protocols. Emergency responders say there is no single accepted set of best practices for responding to active shooter situations, and the protocols vary from district to district around the country. Some schools, mainly private and charter schools, are not even required to have active shooter protocols, let alone drills to have teachers and students practice.

There hasn't been a fire death in a school in over 18 years. There have been 22 school shootings in the U.S. this year alone. 

 Without training, education and awareness students, teachers and faculty will continue to be in harms way as long as fire alarms are pulled in an active shooter situation. What can you do right now as a parent, community leader or teacher to help change this?

  1. Reach out to the school Principal and ask about the school’s emergency response plan – does it include special drills for active shooters?
  2. Reach out to the school district’s Safety and Security Director and ask if they are aware of the fatalities caused by fire alarms in an active shooter situation and how they address these emergency situations
  3. Reach out to the school’s Superintendent and ask what training teachers and staff have received in regards to active shooter situations.
  4. Reach out to teachers and ask if they have the ability to lock their doors from the inside and if they have access to classroom safety devices or if they are required to used desks and chairs to barricade themselves in
  5. Reach out to the National Fire Protection Association and ask how they are adjusting their regulations in response to active shooter situations.

Join the conversation by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and share your thoughts on if fire alarms are doing more harm than good.




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