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Atlanta area elementary schools violate fire codes

11:47 PM, Sep 20, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- How safe is your child's school?  11Alive's Center for Investigative Action dug through fire inspection reports to get the answer.  We found schools in Metro Atlanta need to do a better job eliminating fire hazards.

We spent several weeks examining two years of fire inspection reports for 329 elementary schools and discovered the majority of elementary schools have been failing to get it right.

HOW MANY FIRE SAFETY VIOLATIONS DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE? | Click here to search and see how many violations your school had

"We don't expect them to pass the first time," said Deputy Chief Jeff Yoder with the Gwinnett Fire Department.

We followed along during an annual fire inspection of Dyer Elementary School in Dacula, to get a better perspective about what poses potential hazards.

Virginia Watson, a fire inspector with the Gwinnett County Fire Department, pointed out the problems.

"These are bad," she said pointing to a door stopper preventing an empty classroom door from closing. The doors are supposed to be closed because they act as barriers in the event of a fire.

Some common problems that are found in elementary schools are too much artwork on the walls, combustibles hanging from the ceiling and improper use of extension cords and space heaters.

Teachers commonly try to make their elementary school classrooms more inviting but often times forget that hanging things from the ceiling and covering the walls with paper can be a hazard.

We enlisted the help of the Atlanta Fire Department to conduct a burn test to visually demonstrate what can happen when too much art is covering a wall. The flames spread quickly.

In a school with sprinklers, only 50 percent of the wall can be covered and in an older school without sprinklers, no more than 20 percent of paper can be on the wall.

"This absolutely would be a hazard," said Chief Shinkle, who conducted the test.

HOW OFTEN IT HAPPENS | Statistics on fires in schools 

HOW TO PREVENT IT | School Fire Safety Checklist

Every school is inspected at least once a year and if violations are found they are revisited to make sure that problems have been corrected. Often times the violations are corrected the same day.

During the last round of inspections here's what we found. In Gwinnett County, 92 percent of elementary schools had fire code violations, 85 percent in Cobb, 68 percent in Fulton, 35 percent of Atlanta Elementary Schools failed to get a violation free report, as did 10 percent of DeKalb County Schools.

"You have to follow up," Chief Yoder explained.

The local fire departments work closely with the schools to conduct training and to educate staff about fire code standards. However, there is a lot to consider, which is why every year the schools are inspected and sometimes revisited multiple times until they get it right.

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