Saturday, July 26, 2014

Many North Texas schools lack fire suppression sprinklers


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Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:33 PM
GRAND PRAIRIE -- The former Lamar Elementary in Grand Prairie is one of three sites that may be selected to house immigrant children when they come to North Texas.

If this site is chosen, the fire code will require sprinklers be installed. But did you know many kids attend school in campuses throughout North Texas that don’t not have sprinklers at all?

In Grand Prairie, 16 of its 40 schools don't have fire sprinklers. Thirty-six of Fort Worth’s 126 schools lack them. Thirty-seven of Richardson’s 56 schools don’t have sprinkler systems. Dallas ISD has not yet provided statistics to News 8 regarding their schools.

The schools were grandfathered in under older fire codes, but now that immigrant children would actually be sleeping in Lamar, it changes the use of the facility which changes the fire code requirements.

Officials in several school districts say it’s too costly to go in and retrofit existing schools with sprinklers, unless there’s a major renovation to the building or a new school being built.

In the case of Lamar, the federal government would be picking up what’s expected to be a costly tab.

“As we built new schools, as we replace older campuses, that is part of the safety plan,” said Sam Buchmeyer, a Grand Prairie ISD spokesman.

Grand Prairie officials say the plan is that one day all of the district’s schools will have fire sprinklers. In the meantime, they say all of the schools have fire alarms. Fire drills are conducted monthly.

These days, it would be rare for a new school to be built without a sprinkler, experts say.

“Sprinklers not only can not only detect and extinguish a fire in the early stages, but it also helps the occupants in a building to escape and it just keeps the fire in check before the fire department gets there,” said Grand Prairie Fire Chief Robert Fite.

Fire and other experts say sprinklers save taxpayer dollars and insurance money, as well as the interruption that would come from a school being closed for major repairs or replacement.

“These are actually systems that will do something to stop the fire, rather than just notify out it,” said Cecil Bilbo with the Academy of Fire Sprinkler Technology. “We quietly save people’s lives, but it’s quiet, because nobody cares when there’s a fire event with a sprinkler system in a facility. No one reads about it. It’s a non-event.”

Bilbo said there are ways to save money in the installation of sprinkler systems, such as using fire-resistant plastic piping and using creative ways to avoid yanking out the ceiling.

Joy Presher’s son will be attending Grand Prairie’s Lee Elementary in the fall. That campus is one of the district’s two schools with partial sprinkler systems. Her son’s classes will be in the older portion of the school, which doesn’t have sprinklers.

Presher’s husband actually installs fire sprinkler systems, so she’s well aware of their value.

“You never know when something can happen with electrical and start a fire,” Presher said. “It helps put it out, so it keeps them safe.”


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