Fire Department: Warwick schools without working fire alarms are safe

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Warwick fire officials say the procedures they’ve put in place at two elementary schools with broken fire alarm systems will protect the children and teachers.

On Friday, one firefighter was placed at each of the two elementary schools – Norwood and Holliman – as part of a “fire watch” at each school. The placement of the firefighters comes one day after outcry from parents who were notified that the alarms have been broken since Feb. 24.

The firefighters will patrol the hallways looking for signs of smoke and fire and are equipped with a radio and a cell phone so they can notify fire dispatch in case of a fire. The firefighters would also notify the front office to make an announcement over the intercom for the school to be evacuated.

Before Friday, the fire department had instituted a fire watch program with the school’s custodians, who had to sign in and out of fire watch duty and were instructed that this be their sole job for the duration of the fire watch.

“A fire watch detail doesn’t necessary mean it has to be a firefighter,” Assistant Fire Chief James Kenney said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “These buildings are absolutely safe.”

Kenney said the department decided to swap out the custodians with firefighters in order to put parents at ease. Many were distressed to be notified on Thursday that the alarms weren’t working, despite the fact that the school district had known about the problem for a month.

“That should have happened earlier. It didn’t, and should have,” Superintendent Philip Thornton admitted Thursday. When asked again on Friday, Thornton would not give a reason for the delay in notification.

Kenney said he was absolutely sure that the buildings were just as safe with the fire watch protocols as they would be if the fire alarm systems were working.

“I had a number of calls yesterday that I spoke to parents and I understand they were pretty worked up, and I get that,” Kenney said, adding that his own son is in elementary school, although not at one of the affected schools. “We would not have those buildings occupied by the children of Warwick and the teachers of Warwick if we didn’t feel that they were safe.”

Eyewitness News has requested the most recent fire inspection reports for the two elementary schools. The city of Warwick did not provide the documents Friday and said the request was being processed.