Investigation Finds Lack Of Oversight For School Fire Drills

DALLAS (CBS11 NEWS) – A Consumer Justice “Back to School” investigation found some districts aren’t doing the required amount of fire drills.

In part two of our investigation, CBS11 Consumer Justice reporter Cristin Severance reveals no one from the state is checking to make sure the school districts are doing enough fire drills and some local fire officials had no idea they were even supposed to be checking.

Fire Drill Reports

Our CBS11 Consumer Justice team requested fire drill reports from 1500 schools in 68 school districts in North Texas.

According to national standards and municipal code, school districts must complete one fire drill a month with ten or more school days or nine fire drills a year.

“So, practice, practice, practice is what the NFPA code is looking for,” said Robert Solomon of the National Fire Protection Association.

But more than fifty percent of the districts in North Texas missed at least one drill, making them out of compliance.

At the bottom of the list, Grandview ISD, Paradise ISD and Godley ISD, did less than half of the required amount of drills. However, all three superintendents told CBS11 they made changes to ensure they are in compliance this school year.

“Well, the schools themselves should check, they should even have some kind of safety [person] or someone that oversees those,” said Tarrant County Deputy Fire Marshal Keith Ebel.

Lack Of Oversight

Consumer Justice uncovered, in many cases, no outside agency is checking on the districts.

First we went to the state fire marshal’s office. They provide schools with the fire drill report form, which states: School fire drills are required by local fire code adoption or, in areas without codes, the fire inspection rules of the state fire marshal.

However, at the bottom of the form are clear instructions “please do not send forms to the state fire marshal.”

The state fire marshal referred CBS11 to the Texas Education Agency, which in turn said our questions are better addressed by the Texas School Safety Center. TSSC is a non-profit created by the Texas legislature in charge of key school safety initiatives and mandates.

Severance then traveled to San Marcos to interview TSSC school safety specialist Tom Kelley.

“We’re not a regulatory agency so we don’t go out and tell everybody what all the requirements are… we try and share that in a number of different varieties. We have information on our website, tool kits about the law, we have school safety summits,” said Kelley.

He said the TSSC is there to educate not enforce.

Here’s part of their conversation:

Severance: You’re saying you’ve created all these best practices but what good are these practices if the districts aren’t doing them?
Kelley: Yeah and you know that’s where the rubber meets the road that’s where the schools are going to have to make sure that they do those drills.

Severance: But if these drills are so important who should be checking to make sure that the districts are in compliance if you aren’t?
Kelley: Well the enforcing agency would be the fire marshal. The local actually takes precedent over the state.

Ebel also said local fire departments should be checking fire drill reports during their yearly inspection of the schools.

“As part of our inspection, they should be checking to make sure that all these schools are in compliance,” said Ebel.

Furthermore, if the city has a volunteer fire department or is in an unincorporated area then it falls to the county fire marshal, according to Ebel or they can request an inspection from the state.

Neither Grandview ISD nor Godley ISD located in Johnson County have a fire marshal.

The Grandview School District told CBS11 they hired a 3rd party company to check the fire alarms, extinguishers and exits — not the fire drill reports.

Godley said the state fire marshal’s office does their yearly inspections. However, records shows the state fire marshal hasn’t inspected Godley since 2011.

In Wise county, where Paradise ISD is located, the county fire marshal said the volunteer fire chief does the inspections.

But CBS11 checked with the volunteer chief who said he isn’t…

After Severance contacted the Wise County fire marshal, he sent a letter to Paradise ISD informing them, he will complete the yearly inspections and check fire drill reports.

CBS11 reached out to Board of Eduction member, Karen Melton-Malone, who represents all three districts in the bottom of our list but she never returned a request for comment.

Our Consumer Justice Investigation is prompting action.

Some school districts gave us additional fire drill records since CBS11 first published this database on August 21, 2017. We will continue to update the records as needed. We are unable to update Fort Worth ISD’s records because the district insists on charging for that information.

Click below to see how many fire drills were run at your child’s school.

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