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Fox Elementary alarm failure: 'I don't want someone to get fired, but if that's what it takes'

After devastating Fox fire, RPS parents on edge about alarm panels
Posted at 6:06 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 13:47:46-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Public Schools still haven't verified if alarm systems in every school are working properly nearly two weeks after a catastrophic fire at William Fox Elementary School in the Fan.

CBS 6 Problem Solvers learned the alarm panel at Fox was never reprogrammed with the 804 area code, so when a smoke detector went off in the school, the alarm company, Johnson Controls, never got the message.

When firefighters responded based on a call from a passerby, they had trouble understanding what the panel was telling them.

Now, RPS parent Jeannie Bowker, who has three kids at Linwood Holton Elementary School, wants to know if the alarm panel at her kids' school, and others, work properly.

"It is kind of hard to leave your hearts in these schools and just kind of hope that the systems have been checked and it's all ok," Bowker said.

In a story last Friday, Superintendent Jason Kamras said he believed the panels had been updated, but he would verify.

After devastating Fox fire, RPS parents on edge about alarm panels

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE: Fox Elementary School Fire

RPS spokeswoman, Sarah Abubaker, shared the following information about RPS' alarm systems.

"Fire alarm panels are specialized safety devices in all RPS facilities. For this reason, RPS contracts out repairs and maintenance and relies on authorized vendors to perform the testing and certification of all alarm panels yearly. While some school do have knox boxes, unfortunately, Fox was not one of them. RPS is working to order more knox boxes to ensure coverage at every school. We continue to update fire panel systems across the district and will report out as soon as all work is completed."

On Tuesday night, School Board Chair Doctor Shonda Harris-Muhammed told Kamras she wanted to know too.

Harris-Muhammed told Kamras she wanted an "update on where we are in ensuring that every school security system/alarm system/emergency system has been updated with the proper channel to connect to Richmond alarm and the 911 emergency system."

RPS still has not confirmed whose responsibility it is to update the alarm panels.

A spokesperson said the responsibility varies from school to school. Johnson Controls said they are not an authorized service provider for that particular panel.

Mariah White, who represents the Fox district on the School Board, told parents at a community meeting on Tuesday night that there needs to be accountability.

"I don't want someone to get fired for it, but if that's what it takes, repercussions, this could have turned a different way," White said.

School Board member Liz Doer asked the superintendent if he planned to install lockboxes with keys for firefighters at all schools. Kamras said he didn't have that information at his fingertips, but he would look into it.