Are School Administrators Doing Enough On Fire Safety?

The last thing we want to hear as parents when our children return from school is that a fire broke out and they didn’t know what to do. Which is why we should make sure that our children know what to do while they’re at home. But that doesn’t mean school administrators and teachers aren’t responsible for our kids when under their supervision — they are educators, after all. But are they doing enough?

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation aimed at keeping our schools — both public and private — under stricter standards of fire safety. The law should result in more routine fire inspections by those who are most qualified to provide them: a fire department or specially trained county official. 

Schools that are in non-compliance with the new law will be forced to do so by the state’s Education Department, which has been given more teeth to order those inspections. The inspectors will be held to higher standards as well. Those who miss obvious details that should prevent fires will stand to lose their certifications — and their jobs.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Senator David Carlucci back in 2017. It’s taken this long to move through the proper channels. Zebrowski said, “After years of working with state and local fire officials, we have finally updated the arcane regulations that were in place.”

To put the new laws into perspective, it wasn’t so long ago that schools could ask a janitor to perform these inspections. And much of the paperwork was hard copy. Until now, there has never been standardized, electronic systems for processing these inspections. On top of that, private schools have mostly been running outside the legal boundaries and laws that other schools must follow.

Zebrowski says that the new legislation means that hundreds of schools throughout the Hudson Valley will need to get up to code. “Lay people, regular folks, were able to inspect these schools that employed them and check off the boxes…When we started this process, about 50 percent of private schools weren’t inspected. Now, through regulatory changes, we’ve gotten up to 90 percent. With this bill, we’re hoping to get up to 100 percent.”

Justin Schwartz is a member of Rockland’s illegal housing task force. He’s concerned about the number of homes recently converted into yeshivas — an elementary school for Orthodox Jewish kids — without becoming compliant with new fire safety codes or undergoing inspection.

Schwartz said, “You don’t know what you’re really walking into. And if they don’t have adequate hall space or exit options, then it’s only one way in and one way out, it’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”