Richmond fire inspection process called into question months before Fox Elementary fire

RICHMAND, Virginia (WRIC) – A report on an inspection of the now-burned Fox Elementary School shows eight violations of the Fire Code, and Richmond Public Schools say they have never received documents.

The Richmond Fire Department released its inspection reports of William Fox Elementary School on Friday after 8News sent a request for records of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Documents dated 2010 indicate the months – and in some cases the year – between the initial violations and the time the agency counted them as remedied.

The latest report of August 24, 2021, states that all code violations must be corrected by September 30, 2021, but it seems that these corrections have not been made.

The 2021 report showed more than double the number of violations identified in previous reports. Most inspections revealed two or three violations, but an inspection in September 2013 found five violations.

There were also obvious inconsistencies in the frequency of inspections. Although the examinations seem to be usually annual, there were sometimes large gaps in the record – especially between 2016 and 2019, when the school ran for almost three years without an audit.

An audit of the Richmond Fire Service conducted by city auditor Louis Lassiter shows that a number of these issues were resolved in June 2021.

According to the audit, 40 of the 48 inspected schools passed “unsatisfactory inspections”.

The audit office in the report concluded that schools without inspections and unidentified violations could threaten the lives and safety of staff and students.

The audit also explained that until 2020, the Fire Marshal’s Office did not have a formal process to share the results of inspections. Reports were usually left to school representatives, and violations were not passed on to Richmond School Service staff.

Beginning in April 2020, inspectors from the Fire Marshal’s Office began forwarding all reports to the Richmond School Service Director, according to the audit.

Sarah Abubaker, a spokeswoman for Richmond Public Schools, said the updated communications system described in the audit was never fully implemented.

“There was no consistent reporting structure,” Abubaker argued. “Sometimes we got reports, and other times, like Fox, we didn’t.”

The discovery of the documents made her worry about how many other schools may have unregistered code violations.

“Now we are concerned about violations of the code that they did not tell us about,” Abubaker said.

The 2021 inspectorate also found several obstructions, including a photocopier blocking the exit to one of the classrooms and chains on the door for the exit ramp (although these chains were reportedly removed daily by service workers during school hours).

At 9:46 p.m. on Feb. 11, Richmond Fire was unable to enter Fox Elementary when he responded to the fire because the head of the conservation department reportedly slept and did not see the text.

Other violations during the 2021 inspection killed an electrical shield, an extension cord used as a replacement for permanent electrical wiring, and “combustible materials” in boilers and sprinklers.

8News asked the Fire Marshal’s Office for comment on any of these inconsistencies, and they did not respond at the time of this report.

The emergency panel was found to be faulty a few months before the Fox fire

The August 2021 inspection report also found that the alarm system was in “trouble” mode and there was no updated annual inspection report.

According to the National Fire Brigade, if the alarm is in “fault” mode, the alarm has electronic or mechanical problems, such as a faulty circuit.

Abubaker said he had contacted the company behind the alarm system, Johnson Controls, to fix it. The company’s September service report confirms that the problem has been resolved.

February 11, 2022 school alarm a vital set of figures has reportedly been ruled out it is necessary to start notifying the authorities – city code 804.

According to Fire Chief Melvin Carter, firefighters were initially confused about the nature of the alarm.

“We’re not sure if it was a fire alarm, a motion detector. We are still investigating, ”Carter told a news conference the morning after the fire.

Abubaker said she believes Johnson Controls should have updated zone code 804 during the September inspection.

However, a statement from a Johnson Controls spokesman denied the allegation, saying “Johnson Controls is monitoring fire alarms, we do not service equipment at Fox Elementary School.”

The existence of the September official report seems to challenge this claim.

Abubaker added that since the Fox fire, all fire panels in Richmond’s public schools have been inspected, and “all but 10 are working properly.”

Abubaker said the 10 panels would continue to sound the alarm, and Johnson Controls is working to “install a cell phone system to replace a broken landline.”

This story is evolving. Stay tuned.

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