New fire alarm panels to be hardwired in 10 RPS schools with outdated systems

New fire alarm panels to be hardwired in 10 RPS schools with outdated systems
Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 20:13:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- In the weeks since William Fox Elementary was destroyed by a massive fire, Richmond Public Schools said it's taken significant steps to ensure safety across the district.

The night of the blaze at Fox on February 11, the school's alarm panel never received a message about a smoke detector going off because the panel was not reprogrammed to include an 804 area code to dial out. It was a requirement Verizon made beginning October 2021 in order to make local calls.

“In terms of what we've learned from Fox is that there are some opportunities for us to streamline our processes and to get those panels updated," said RPS spokesperson, Sarah Abubaker.

In the past two weeks, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers have asked RPS about how many other schools did not have fire alarm panels with the correct phone number. On Sunday, Abubaker confirmed panels at all but ten facilities have been updated.

"All of our alarm panels have been inspected now by our vendor," Abubaker said. "And there are ten panels, as we mentioned, that need to be replaced in order for them to appropriately dial out to the alarm company."

According to an email sent by Superintendent Jason Kamras to school board members, the ten panels that haven't been reprogrammed are too old for local vendors to fix.

The ten facilities include Arthur Ashe Athletic Center, Elizabeth Redd Elementary, George Wythe High, J. B. Fisher Elementary, John B. Cary Elementary, Mary Scott Preschool, Open High School, Richmond Alternative, Southampton Elementary, and Ginter Park Elementary, according to an email.

In the meantime, Abubaker said RPS has two additional safety measures in place.

"Those panels are being equipped with a cellular dial-out program which will allow them to still function while we're getting them replaced," she said. "And they have fire watch personnel in the schools when the schools are unoccupied monitoring the school building.

Essentially, a fire watch is a trained professional who provides surveillance of the buildings and looks out for signs of fire. The measure was also required by the Richmond Fire Department per the statewide fire prevention code due to the missing area code numbers on the panels.

The permanent plan is for all ten locations to be hardwired with brand new fire alarm panels. When asked about a timeline, Abubaker responded "as soon as possible."

Even further, Abubaker said a master list of contact information for security and administrative employees for every school has been resent to the fire department.

Abubaker said RPS' efforts proved to be effective Saturday night when firefighters responded to Ginter Park Elementary for alarm notification.

“They were greeted by the fire watch contractor," she said. “And they were greeted by the RPS key holder and let it into the building, so everything went as we hoped that it would go with this process.”

Another RPS spokesperson, Matthew Stanley, told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers that a fire zone map could not be located at Ginter Park Saturday. A fire zone map would help firefighters easily locate an emergency. Abubaker said every school in the district should have one and RPS is auditing the map at Ginter Park.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers asked if there was a zone map for Fox Elementary School readily available to firefighters on February 11. The Richmond Fire Department initially said the panel that night indicated "zone 32," but firefighters did not know what "zone 32" meant. Monday, Abubaker said she did not have an immediate answer but would look into it.

Abubaker also explained that lockboxes, which would allow first responders to easily access a key to RPS buildings, have been ordered for facilities without one. She said they are on backorder, and RPS is waiting for shipments to arrive.



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