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Up In Flames: The Fault with SHS Fire Drills

Up+In+Flames%3A+The+Fault+with+SHS+Fire+Drills

Oh no! There’s a dangerous fire in the building! Quick you guys, let’s get into a single file line and walk at an average pace! 

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 7:28 a.m, Stamford High School followed the procedures for a building evacuation in response to the fire alarm being triggered. In a critiquing email sent to teachers by Assistant Principal Thomas Agosto, “We evacuated the building in four minutes and 50 seconds. Our goal is to reduce building evacuation time to less than four minutes.” The evacuation, the “first fire drill of the school year” according to several students, occurred just three minutes after class started that morning – a convenient time to hold a drill as instruction hadn’t occurred yet in classrooms (for the most part). Thus, many students were surprised to find out that it wasn’t in fact a drill when notified of its true nature a few days later. This presents the question, if a building of pre-trained students and educators cannot evacuate the building within the expected duration of four minutes, are fire drills a truly effective method of shortening this time?

The general pre-conceived notion that when the fire alarm goes off it is for the monthly fire drill rather than an actual emergency is a dangerous way of thinking, as it results in timely walks to the stairwells and students focusing more on finding their friends to walk outside together rather than on their own safety. In the 2022-2023 school year alone, SHS had multiple occurrences where the fire alarm was accidentally triggered, resulting in the fire department rolling in with loud sirens and geared-up firefighters who were prepared to take on a non-existent fire. That number doesn’t even include the multiple threats of gun or bomb violence that we experienced as a community last school year. These shared experiences of confusing situations and illegitimate reports that there was a threat of student endangerment results in the general perception that when a fire alarm goes off, it is solely for precautionary purposes.

After a minimum of nine years of monthly fire drill procedures in middle and elementary schools (within Stamford Public Schools (SPS) for the majority of students), it can be presumed that all students know what to do in the event of a fire, making the monthly drill more of an excuse to get out of class for potentially over 10 minutes rather than offering valuable training that is imperative to ones safety. This frequent regulatory procedure becomes redundant, and students begin to lose sight of what is expected of them per the SHS Fire Drill Policy: to “leave the building quickly and quietly.” When students immediately presume that it is a drill, these evacuations are certainly not done in a quiet manner. This brings up the question, how does Stamford High create a form of training that eliminates those unwanted 50 seconds?

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There are multiple ways to go about this, but one thing remans most important: transparency. SHS Administration did a fairly good job of notifying parents and students of threats in the previous school year. When a lockdown was put into place, parents and guardians received an email from Agosto no later than a minute or two following the intercom announcement. As a result of this diligence, there is little reason why this transparency cannot exist with fire drills – in either audio or textual form. One could blame that these extra 50 seconds are the result of a population of talkative teenagers at SHS, who are voluntarily conversing in the halls rather than following their teacher’s instruction. But the fact of the matter remains that, because of the school’s history of incorrect threat reports and falsely triggered alarms, SHS students will continue to assume that there is no apparent threat when the fire alarm goes off. This results in a casual stroll to a class’s designated location outside, rather than a rapid and attentive evacuation. One of these locations is the enclosed courtyard near the cafeteria, which isn’t the safest place to congregate during an evacuation. Some of the time, teachers will be notified of an upcoming drill and let their students know when it will occur, but this concept only hurts the purpose of a fire drill; if students are not caught off guard and are, rather, prepared to evacuate, they are planning to leave for lunch or take their time walking outside as it is already confirmed that there is no present threat.

Upperclassmen have completed at least 110 fire drills during their tenure as SPS students. It does not take 110 drills to understand the necessary course of action in the event of a fire. A lack of transparency in regard to these drills in recent years has resulted in the conclusion that fire drills lack purpose and do more harm than good, as students are more inclined to be dismissive and casual rather than cognizant of the dangers that a fire brings. The next time that a fire does occur, hopefully students will properly follow the procedure they’ve practiced countless times. Otherwise, they will continue to be viewed as a much needed 15 minute break from class that hopefully happens during a test, but, for the average SHS student, this indoor break is preferred despite the potential of burning in the building.

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    abigail williamsNov 9, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    very informing!

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