Charleston County schools falling short on required fire drills - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Charleston County schools falling short on required fire drills

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Despite South Carolina law requiring monthly fire drills, many Charleston County schools are falling short of the requirement. Despite South Carolina law requiring monthly fire drills, many Charleston County schools are falling short of the requirement.

There is an update to this Reality Check investigation.  The Charleston County School District amended the numbers for fire drills conducted at Pinehurst Elementary since this story aired and was posted on counton2.com. The original reports the district provided showed Pinehurst did not have a single fire drill in the 2012-2013 school year.  The district says the records have since been found and the school actually completed all 10 required drills.

Posted August 22, 2013

State law requires all schools in South Carolina to do at least one fire drill each month that school is in session, including one in the first 10 days of school.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, News 2 requested the fire drill reports from Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester District 2 for the 2012-2013 school year. Berkeley County schools completed 100% of the drills, for every elementary, middle and high school in the district.

Charleston and DD2 (story detailing DD2 reports to air Friday on News 2 at 6 p.m.) fell well short of 100%.

In Charleston County, 40 of the 75 elementary, middle, and high schools in the CCSD skipped or have no record of at least one drill. Some of the schools with multiple skips include; Zucker Middle (5), Cario Middle (6), Burke Middle/High (6), Mary Ford (7), and Pinehurst Elementary had no record of performing a single fire drill during the last school year.

See complete Charleston County School District reports for 2012-2013 here.

Jeff Scott is the Director of Security and Emergency Management for the CCSD, he concedes the schools that do not have record of doing the drill, or did not do them, are in violation of state law. However, he believes it is a district problem and not a matter of principals simply not doing what is required.

"We went back and looked at it ourselves, and it is not a personnel issue, it is a process and training issue on our part", said Scott. "Principals emailed the drill packet for one of the August drills to the Risk Management office, and the rest are supposed to come to my office. I suspect that created some of the confusion."

In an effort to eliminate confusion, Scott says, prior to this school year he had a generic "emergency drills" email address set up, so all drill packets come to his office, and he says he made this part of his conversation with principals before the start of school this week.

The law requiring monthly drills has not been updated since the 1960s, and Scott is now hoping to make changes to it. He is working with fire officials, and hopes to work with lawmakers to amend the law to incorporate the "all hazards" approach all schools are now using. 

"We want to be able to substitute the fire drill ever other month for either a tornado, earthquake, or lockdown drill", Scott said. " Give us some leeway and flexibility and let's train for what we know we need help in...I think we're pretty good with evacuation drills because we've been doing them for 34 years."

It is not likely that change will be supported by the National Fire Protection Association. Robert Solomon is the Division Manager for NFPA's Building Fire Protection and Life Safety Department. He agrees with the "all hazards" approach, but says these drills need to be done in addition to fire drills.

"We can't sacrifice, we're not going to do fire drills because we're going to do active shooter drills, or we're going to sacrifice those things because we're going to do a tornado drill", said Solomon. "We really have to look at the multitude of hazards that can affect a school."

As for accountability for the schools that are lacking in the fire drill department. The law calls for the principal to be fined between $10 - $25. That is not happening because some of the provisions in the law are no longer applicable. The Office of School Facilities responded to questions about enforcement with an email saying; "The SC Department of Education enforces the requirement for monthly drills with the school's accreditation audit. The SCDE does not have the authority to levy fines".

Look for the DD2 fire drill reports here on Friday.

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