More sprinkler systems, annually reviewing alarm systems with staff and additional fire-prevention strategies are among six recommendations included in a report into the fire that destroyed a Brocklehurst elementary school.
Parkcrest elementary burned down on Sept. 5, 2019, at about 5 p.m. when no students were in the school.
On Monday, a fire-incident report was presented to the Kamloops-Thompson board of education.
The bulk of its six suggestions will be implemented as earlier as this year, while the addition of sprinklers may take some time, superintendent Alison Sidow told KTW.
The report found the school’s fire alarm worked as expected, alerting three staff members in the school at the time of the fire before the smell of smoke or signs of fire were detected.
Believing the alarm to be false, one staff member attempted to reset the panel, but it would not reset, Sidow told trustees, adding staff then evacuated and called 911, which had also been called by the alarm company.
The report found the attempt to reset the panel may have may have resulted in a loss in response time of three minutes and 46 seconds.
“In the world of fire investigation, I’m told, that is a significant amount of time, enough time that the fire can gain some traction,” Sidow said.
As a result, the report recommends schools review setting up and resetting fire alarm systems with all staff on an annual basis, which Sidow said will begin immediately.
Kamloops Fire Rescue Chief Mike Adams told reporters outside the board meeting it is “difficult to speculate” if that time would have made much of a difference in saving the school, given the fire began in a void space between the ceiling and roof.
“The sooner we’re informed, the better, and we’re confident the school district is taking steps forward to ensure the processes are prompt,” Adams said.
The nearly 50-year-old Parkcrest elementary did not have a sprinkler system and the report estimated about 20 per cent of the building would have been salvaged if one was in place, due to the fire starting in the roof, above where a sprinkler system would have been located.
But Adams said the outcome would have likely been the same — demolition of the entire building.
The report recommends updating schools with sprinkler systems as part of its annual $3.5-million facilities grant from the Ministry of Education.
Sidow said 20 of the school district’s 60 buildings do not have sprinkler systems. Given their cost and competing priorities, She said a plan is needed to find a period of time in which to outfit the remaining buildings with sprinkler systems.
Adams said the district and fire department will have more discussion on sprinkler systems in schools moving forward.
School board chair Kathleen Karpuk said items such as lead abatement in water fountains, roof work and preventive maintenance are priorities that must all share a pot of funding, which is never enough to complete all projects facilities need.
“We can put sprinklers into our building or we can maintain and improve our level of preventative maintenance,” Karpuk said. “That’s something we have to look at — does preventative maintenance prevent more fires than putting in a sprinkler system?”
The fire investigation labeleld the cause of the blaze as undetermined, due to the extensive fire damage and instability of the scene.
But the most likely source of ignition was from the school’s HVAC system as the fire was determined to have started in space between the roof and drop ceiling above four classrooms.
The report outlines three separate instances in 2015 — one involving an unplugged power bar in a classroom creating sparks, and two incidents in which a rooftop HVAC unit overheated some glue and caused some discolouration on the units.
The fire department was called to the first two of those incidents, but not the last one — nor was senior administration notified.
The report also found notifying the fire department of any suspected fires would give its fire-prevention staff an opportunity to investigate and provide suggestions to prevent further occurrences.
As such, the report recommends the school district strengthen its incident reporting process by updating its criteria for notifying district administration.
The report doesn’t draw a link between the three incidents and the fire, nor does it mention any other incidents in the four years leading to the Sept. 5 fire.
Sidow said there were no other incidents in that time.
The report suggests the school district also provide hard copies of site plans and building layouts to enhance the fire department’s ability to find building services such as natural gas and electrical shutoffs.
“That will be done forthwith,” Sidow said.
The report’s final recommendations are that school district staff meet with fire department officials this year to discuss a plan for more fire-prevention strategies at school district facilities and that lock-box installations are completed to ensure firefighters have keys to enter all buildings in the district without staff in case of emergency.
Karpuk said reinforcing safety drills and procedures is paramount for the board moving forward to ensure safety of staff and students in case something like this happens again.
Adams said he’s satisfied with the way in which the school district is moving forward, noting school drills occur in the district up to six times a year and KFR annually inspects schools.
“We’re continuing to build upon that relationship and develop a strong safety culture,” Adams said.