Officials: Though Fox had fire zone map, firefighters didn't know where zones were

Fox Elementary fire 02.png
Posted at 6:44 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 18:44:30-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Five houses down from a burned-out William Fox Elementary lies the home of Richmond Public Schools mom, Shannon Heady, and her family.

"I have lived five doors down from William Fox for 20 years," Heady said. "My 15-year-old was a Fox graduate, so all three of my kids went through Fox and I still have a fourth-grader who is at Fox right now."

Currently, her youngest goes to class at First Baptist Church, which is the temporarily learning spot for the Fox community as renovations continue to Clark Springs Elementary where students and staff are headed next.

“It's been going really well," Heady said. "And just to see the happiness of all the kids being together, that was important."

In fact, she said the children are pretty impressed by their new surroundings.

“Everything is so beautiful. They're not used to fancy chandeliers," she laughed. "So I think one of the kids actually said the bathrooms were regal, which I think is so funny.”

But every now and then, Heady thinks back to the night of February 11 when her family watched Fox become consumed by flames.

"It was really pretty traumatic, but we did see parents and teachers," she said, "I mean her fourth-grade teacher was standing there crying watching the school burn."

In the weeks following the blaze, the Problem Solvers have uncovered issues within RPS involving fire alarm panels, security staffing, and a missing fire zone map at Ginter Park Elementary. During a fire alarm call to the Northside school in late February, RPS confirmed firefighters were unable to locate a fire zone map, which is a tool to help first responders quickly identify the location of an emergency.

The missing map led to a district-wide review, and CBS 6 asked RPS if Fox had a fire zone map in its proper location, next to the fire alarm panel, the night of the fire.

“Every RPS school has a fire zone map," said RPS spokesperson, Sarah Abubaker. "And there was one readily available at Fox.”

The Richmond Fire Department initially told CBS 6 during its first response to Fox that the fire alarm panel, which was in trouble condition, signaled zone 32. Fire officials said they didn't know what zone 32 meant at the time because firefighters couldn't get in touch with RPS personnel. RPS later confirmed zone 32 is the front entrance area.

Security footage showed first responders checking the inside of the building for 12 minutes before clearing the school and leaving. They returned to Fox less than 30 minutes with flames shooting from the building.

CBS 6 asked the Richmond Fire Department if they saw a fire zone map, and if they could not understand the panel, did they try to read the fire zone map? A spokesperson said the fire department could not answer questions until the fire investigation has concluded.

"We maintain that we will thoroughly answer questions surrounding the Fox Elementary school fire once the investigation is complete," said a spokesperson.

In the meantime, RPS said it has remained committed to ensuring fire safety across the district.

“One of the things that we are doing is a full audit of the fire zone map locations," Abubaker said. "And then we will be sending that information in a whole comprehensive document to the fire department.”

Earlier this month, CBS 6 asked Superintendent Jason Kamras what RPS has learned since the fire.

"We have taken a closer look at all of our fire safety protocols," Kamras said. "As you noted, our alarm panels and things of that nature, we're expediting upgrades and fixes wherever they are necessary and tightening up protocols."

Heady said she's confident in the district's response to ensure safety for all students and staff.

“I think that the staff that I've spoken to and worked with at RPS has been really on top of it," she said.

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