To ensure a safe and healthy learning environment, school districts and community colleges must take steps to mitigate incidents, such as fires, by performing regular fire surveys and working with the local Fire Marshal to ensure that they are meeting the fire code where they are located.
Educational entities should perform regular fire safety assessments of each campus. These assessments should look at key factors that might contribute to a fire and then must take necessary prevention steps. Licensed fire inspectors are not required to perform these assessments; common sense and basic guidance can help create a fire-safe campus.
To ensure proper compliance with the local fire codes and address any specific or unique risks, organizations should work closely with their fire officials, often referred to as the Authority Having Jurisdiction. Also, be aware that in some cases, larger jurisdictions may adopt their own fire code with the guidance of the State Fire Marshal’s office and are stricter that the state adopted fire codes.
Some small school districts may not have a locally adopted fire code, and it is important to know the current fire code adopted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The State Fire Marshal currently uses the 2015 editions of the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code and Fire Code (NFPA 10).
The following tips are designed to help districts and community colleges understand some of the key fire safety measures that are common concerns for campuses. By using this guidance, teachers, professors, administrators, students, and other staff members at school districts and community colleges can reduce the chance of fires in schools.
- According to fire code, all stored combustible materials, such as wood, paper, foam, cardboard, or plastic boxes must have a ceiling clearance of 24 inches in buildings without sprinklers. However, in buildings with fire sprinkler systems, items can be stored 18 inches from the ceiling, but not higher, since items stored closer can block water from sprinkler heads trying to put out a fire.
- Electrical rooms, air handling rooms, and mechanical rooms must remain free of combustible items and hazardous chemicals. Combustible items can easily ignite near electrical equipment that is hot or even warm.
Egress and ingress
- All egress and ingress routes must be clear of debris. Hallways and corridors are designed for quick access in and out of the building.
- Egress and ingress routes in and out of classrooms must remain clear of items including desks and other furnishings, educational materials, and students’ personal belongings.
- Any door that serves as an exit or emergency exit should never be decorated or covered with combustible materials. Decorating doors can camouflage or block the exit making it difficult for students, faculty, and staff to evacuate in a timely manner. In addition, decorated doors create a fire risk of their own.
- Multi-plug adapters and electrical power strips should not be connected or used as a substitute for permanent wiring.
- Extension cords should not be run through holes in walls or the ceiling, connected to each other, used as permanent wiring, plugged into multi-plug adapters and electrical power strips, or used for more than 90 days.
- Portable electric space heaters cannot to be used within three feet in all directions of combustible material.
- Ceiling tiles form a fire barrier that helps to prevent fire from entering the sub-ceiling and spreading to other rooms within the building. They also serve as protective area for HVAC air returns and for crawl spaces. Therefore, they should not be decorated, removed, or damaged.
- There should be no missing or damaged ceiling tiles.
- Ceiling tiles cannot be pushed up or vented and must fit securely within the grid.
- Items cannot be hung from or through ceiling tiles or the tile grids.
- Electrical wiring and extension cords cannot be run through ceiling tiles or tile grids.
- Ceiling tiles cannot be covered with paper or other combustible materials.
Fire protection equipment
- Fire alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers should be easily visible and accessible at all times.
- Alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers should be marked with legible signage.
- Fire alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers should not be covered by furniture, plants or other decorations.
- Fire extinguishers should be mounted within normal routes of travel and close to ingress and egress routes.
- Portable extinguishers of less than 40 pounds should be mounted with the handle no more than five feet above the floor.
- Portable extinguishers of more than 40 pounds should be mounted with the handle no more than three and a half feet above the floor.
- Extinguishers should have a least four inches of clearance from the bottom of the extinguisher to the floor.
- Décor and teaching materials displayed in corridors are not to exceed 20 percent in buildings that do not have a functioning sprinkler system; however buildings with full sprinkler systems may have up to 50 percent wall coverage.
- No decorations are allowed on ceilings, classroom doors, or within 36 inches of the door frame.
- Excessive combustible materials on walls could disguise and/or compromise the integrity of evacuation routes.
- Schools may evacuate a building or facility for a variety of hazards; however procedures will remain the same.
- When a fire alarm or other emergency announcement is made directing students, staff, and volunteers to evacuate the building, student accountability procedures begin.
- All occupants need to be familiar with a primary and secondary evacuation routes.
- Fire evacuation maps and severe weather procedures as well as emergency kits should be mounted near exit doors in all instructional and non-instructional rooms.
- Evacuation maps should be posted at a height that meets the needs of students, faculty, and staff including those who may have access or functional needs.
- Best practices indicate that primary evacuation routes are shown in red and secondary routes in green.
- Emergency exit signs should be illuminated.
- Exit doors should never be chained, locked, or blocked.
- Designated emergency exits should have a three-foot clearance around them to provide adequate space for evacuation.
To ensure that students, faculty, and staff are well versed in fire/evacuation procedures, everyone must participate in monthly fire drills. School districts should perform one announced drill during the first two weeks of school. Campuses also should perform one obstructed exit drill per semester.
Other fire safety tips
- All instructional and non-instructional facilities should have reliable communication with the nearest campus or administration facility.
- Instructional and non-instructional facilities should have the address clearly marked on each building such as on the marquee or front of the building. Addresses may be painted on a curb or directional sign but are not adequate as the primary addressing.
All Fund members in the Workers’ Compensation or Property programs are eligible for staff training on basic fire prevention and fire safety surveys at no additional cost. For more information on these services, contact your Risk Solutions consultant.
This information is based on a Fund Webinar led by Risk Solutions Consultant Chuck Kennedy. If you are a Fund member interested in listening to the recorded webinar, contact TASB Risk Management Member Solutions.