Washington County school system works with fire marshals to improve fire safety

July 07, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Conducting monthly fire drills at Western Heights Middle School was disappointing for Principal Stephen Tarason.

It took the school's 640 students and their teachers about four minutes to exit the building during drills last year.

That wasn't fast enough for Tarason, who enlisted local officials with the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office to help.

"There was a jam at one end of the building (when students were evacuating)," he said. "We were trying to think of some ways to fix it."

With the help of the State Fire Marshal's Office, Tarason said evacuation time was cut in half.

"They immediately saw the remedy to the situation," he said.

Administrators in the middle school constantly told students to walk to the right side of the hallway, which they did - even during an emergency evacuation.

"All students were only using the right side, and we had the whole left side of the building available," Tarason said. "We tell them all day long, 'stay to the right.'"


Officials also told administrators that they could use a different exit.

"It was a really simple remedy," Tarason said. "But it was something we would have probably looked at a hundred times and not seen."

Steve Ganley, safety & security/risk manager for Washington County Public Schools, said this is an example of the type of "cooperative" relationship the school system has with the Maryland State Fire Marshal.


The two groups also worked together on an educational video for teachers about fire safety in the classroom, Ganley said.

"It's education," he said. "People can't prevent violations if they don't know they're violations."

New teachers are shown the video before the start of the school year, Ganley said. Teachers learn not to overload extension cords, and how to find the quickest way out of the building.

"(The video) explains the code as far as the doorway not being blocked, and the code about not allowing items to be stacked up to the ceiling," he said.

Ed Ernst, deputy state fire marshal, said officials are working to make safety practices consistent in each school.

"As teachers move from school to school they are told to do something different at every school," he said. "So, we're trying to make it more consistent."

Ernst said the video for new teachers, and also working with principals on consistent expectations and practices, "seems like it's really working out."

Ganley said the school system also works to educate the students about fire safety.

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