When school safety and fire safety collide

The fire service has the opportunity to adapt fire code enforcement to new and emerging threats, including active violence


With the Santa Fe school shooting fresh in our minds, the topic of conversation at a recent FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board meeting turned to school violence safety. Students from Santa Fe High School reported hearing a fire alarm, and suspecting a fire drill before discovering a gunman was targeting students.

A conflict that often seems to exist between life safety and fire codes, and efforts to protect our children from violence. In fact, as I have taught response to active violence training from Alaska to Florida, I often hear the same complaint when it comes to securing public buildings, especially schools: “the fire marshal won’t let us do it.”

This is, to say the least, quite a conundrum. On one hand, the fire service has had an excellent track record in protecting children in public schools. The last time a child was killed in a school building fire was Dec. 1, 1958, when a fire broke out in Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago, Ill. So here we are 60 years later, having all but mastered fires in public schools, but we unable to adapt to a new threat; that of active violence. Why is that?

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