KCTV5 Investigates: Fire drill report card - KCTV5

KCTV5 Investigates: Fire drill report card

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A KCTV5 survey of fire drill logs from a dozen Kansas school districts in the area revealed a number of schools failing to conduct monthly drills as required by state law.

KCTV5 was at Cedar Hills Elementary School in Overland Park on Monday, April 22, when a fire drill interrupted classroom instruction.

It appeared these students knew exactly what to do - rising from their desks to form a line and file from classes to outside gathering points.

That orderly behavior came as no surprise. The records obtained by KCTV5 show that Cedar Hills has conducted all required fire drills in the past three academic years.

The same cannot be said for Lawrence Public Schools. Records revealed 98 skipped drills in this district.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time this has been brought to my attention. That we had deficiencies," said Ron May, director of administrative services for the Lawrence School District.

KCTV5's investigation into his district's logs revealed that a quarter of the required drills since 2010 had been missed at four elementary schools: Broken Arrow, Sunflower, Kennedy and Sunset Hill.

"If you look at the current year, three of those four building that you picked out, they are up to date this year," May pointed out to KCTV5 investigative reporter Stacey Cameron.

That is true. But the fourth building to which May referred is Sunset Hill Elementary. District records show it still missed all but one of the fire drills required during this most recent academic year.

"Have they only performed one drill at Sunset Hill?" Cameron asked.

"That's what's logged," May said. "Sometimes they forget to log in those. But what's logged is what shows and that's all I can speak to on that."

May believes the problem uncovered by KCTV5 boils down to poor record keeping. He suggests principals are conducting the drills but failing to log them after the fact.

That may be true, but according to Kansas State Fire Marshall Doug Jorgensen, those schools still broke state law.

The statute which requires monthly drills also dictates that schools must keep a record of them for three years. To ensure the drills are happening, Jorgensen and other local fire chiefs need that documentation.

"I'm very concerned," Jorgensen said. "Whether that's just an issue of improper paper work and nobody keeping and filling out the logs or it's the fact that they're not actually doing the drills."

So, either way you look at it, Jorgensen says the Lawrence district broke the law. And they're not alone.

"Does that alarm you?" Cameron asked.

"It does," Jorgenson said.

Of the Kansas districts KCTV5 surveyed, the records show eight schools with missing fire drill reports and another 23 that have skipped two or more drills in the past three years.

"Some schools may find that it's cumbersome to do that once a month," Jorgensen said. "But it's been years since Kansas has had any loss of life at a school from a fire situation."

The Kansas school fire drill law may save lives but it doesn't come with any teeth. If a school ignores the law, Jorgensen says he is powerless to enforce it.

"We just try and work with them as best we can," Jorgensen said.

When Jorgensen and the local fire chiefs find a problem with the logs, they are allowed to issue citations. But as he points out, not everyone follows through.

A prime example of that comes from May, back at Lawrence Public Schools.

"Interestingly enough, the chief of the fire department is a school board member," May said.

It would seem that no one at the district level, including the local fire chief, was checking to make sure schools were holding the monthly drills or filling out the logs required by state law until KCTV5 called.

"To a parent who's alarmed, what do you want to say to them?" Cameron asked May.

"As I said at the very beginning, safety is of utmost importance to our school district," May said. "It's top priority. And I have been in contact with each of those administrators and we are working on making sure that those drills are conducted, and that they're done to the level that the state requires."

While the monthly fire drills have been required in Kansas since 1972, it is a much different story across the state line.

Missouri has no such uniform requirements.

Mandatory drilling is something Missouri Parent Teacher Association vice president Dorothy Gardner said her group has been advocating for the past 25 years.

"Let's do a drill each month so safety is always on the forefront," Gardner said. "Once it becomes a habit with the teachers, with the students, with the staff: if a real emergency happens, instead of everybody panicking and chaos ensuing, that memory will click in."

"Why do you think Missouri hasn't moved in that direction?" Cameron asked.

"I just don't think that it's been a priority for our lawmakers at this time," Gardner said.

Until something happens on the state level, each school district in Missouri makes its own rules. KCTV5 discovered some schools hold fire drills monthly while others hold them once a semester.

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