NBC10 Investigators: Philly Schools Failing at Fire Drills

Philadelphia schools are ignoring city fire code and the district’s own policy. The NBC10 Investigators analyzed hundreds of school fire drill records and discovered that schools are not performing enough drills.

In part 2 of the “Failing at Fire Drills,” series, NBC10 investigative reporter Mitch Blacher looks into why one of Philly’s safety agencies didn’t raise the red flag regarding schools not following the fire code.

Philadelphia fire code says schools should perform monthly drills. One drill is supposed to be performed for every month school is in session for a total of 10 each year.

The NBC10 Investigators' analysis of records produced through a public record request showed that just 14.9 percent of Philadelphia schools performed 10 fire drills during the 2014-2015 school year. [[379896471, C]]

"This is one of the most important things you can do for the students and the faculty," Robert Solomon, of the National Fire Protection Association, said.

School records show some schools, including Fox Chase and Gompers Elementary, reported two fire drills in the 2014-2015 school year.

“I would have a hard time believing that the school administrators, the school faculty and the students are going to be that well-versed that this will be a second nature thing,” Solomon said. “It would be of a big concern I think.”

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite Jr. said he was unaware his district’s school weren’t following the fire code.

“We’re trying to find that out as well,” Hite said. “There’s a code in place. It’s there to keep children safe.”

School fire drill records for the past two and a half years show schools recording drills on days classes were not in session, including a Saturday, Christmas Eve, and during the Papal visit in September 2015.

“Children aren’t in school on weekends and holidays,” Hite said when asked about the discrepancy. “We’re going to hold people accountable to this.”

Since our investigation the superintendent sent principals a memo reminding them, “You are responsible for holding the required drills and for making sure your fire drill log is up to date.”

Schools are required to conduct at least two (2) fire exit drills during the first two (2) weeks of the school term and eight (8) additional fire exit drills per year. In climates where the weather is severe during the winter months, at least six (6) drills shall be held at the beginning of the school term and four (4) drills after the winter months to complete the ten (10) required drills. 

Through a public records request, the NBC10 Investigators asked for fire drill logs from Philadelphia City Schools for 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, as well as logs until December for 2015-16 school year. We received logs from 171 out of 218 schools. While some schools provided no records and others only for certain schools years, schools are not required to maintain fire drill logs for the current school year.

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