DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Children spend a lot of time at school and we expect those buildings to be safe.
But a three month-long 2 NEWS investigation found some schools are not inspected regularly for dangers like overloaded extension cords and properly lit fire exits.
Hotels, hospitals, and daycare centers all must be inspected for fire hazards, but we found schools don’t have to be, even though the Ohio State Fire Marshal said inspections are vital to maintaining safe buildings.
School and fire are two words that don’t mix.
“Fire is always a scary situation,” said Northmont City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Sarah Zatik.
This school year, dozens of students and parents were evacuated from Northmont High School Auditorium when a construction area started to smolder.
No one was hurt and the school credits up-to-date fire doors and smoke detectors for alerting everyone, but they say it’s the fire inspections that made sure those were working in the first place.
Every year, Northmont City Schools has local firefighters come through their buildings looking at everything from exit lights to electrical wiring; pointing out and making sure all fire hazards are removed.
Many public schools have the same partnerships with their local fire departments.
We wanted to know: How safe are local schools?
So 2 NEWS Investigates requested the fire safety inspection records for every public school in Montgomery County.
We found many schools with several violations.
Overloaded power strips, missing ceiling tiles and blocked exits are among the most common violations for schools.
But what may surprise you more is that we found at least two districts that haven’t been completing safety inspection reports.
Jefferson Township had no record of safety inspections. I called their superintendent, Dr. Richard Gates. He refused to do an on camera interview but admitted to us he wasn’t even aware schools and fire departments did these inspections.
He said they have a company that looks at their fire alarm systems but have no one inspecting every room.
West Carrollton’s middle school had no safety inspection reported for 10 years.
It was eight years for their high school.
Their most recent one was conducted on Nov 18th, three days after we first started checking.
“Why is there a gap of several years in some of your inspections,” we asked.
“The reason I can give you is the gap is my partner and I, who have done the safety programs, we go into each of the school rooms, every school in the school district and we see anything we report it,” said West Carrollton Fire Prevention Officer LeAnne Nash, “so as far as filling out an actual report there are times we just haven’t been able to get them completed.”
But 2 NEWS Investigates found even though the state recommends these safety inspections, these schools and fire departments are not required to do them.
“I have not ever sent the state any acknowledgment that we’ve done these things,” said Nash.
State law only requires fire drills done every year to make sure kids know how to get out of a building if there was a fire. There is nothing in the Ohio Revised Code that requires a building to be checked for fire hazards.
So why require fire drills but not inspections?
I went straight to the top fire official in the state to find out and asked why fire inspections aren’t mandatory.
“It’s not currently in the Ohio revised code that they are mandatory,” State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said, “We are always willing to look at areas there may be a deficiency or weakness but we found that it’s working in Ohio without mandating it.”
Flowers said most local departments do conduct inspections every year and he recommends them.
But with no one monitoring the safety inspections, there’s no easy way to know what schools are dangerous.
And Flowers admits it.
“There’s a possibility that there could be a building that’s fallen through the crack,” said Flowers.
Not falling through the cracks– both schools in our investigation are now planning changes.
Jefferson Township told me they will look into inspections and West Carrollton Fire Department has a new program that will help them keep up on theirs.
If you are wondering when your child’s school last had a fire safety inspection and what they found, We’ve made it easy to find with our searchable database.