ELECTRICAL WOES WON’T SHORT SCHOOL YEAR

Administrators developed a fire-watch system while awaiting the replacement of alarm equipment components. (Photo by Danielle Tepper. Click to enlarge)

By DANIELLE TEPPER

[Editor’s note below]

A busted fire alarm system won’t interrupt the homestretch into summer at Fair Haven’s Knollwood School.

Faced with having to close the school down for several days after water from a burst pipe knocked out the fire alarm, officials instead have adopted a “fire watch” system involving regular monitoring.

According to a notice sent to parents of Knollwood students on Monday by Superintendent Kathi Cronin, the alarm system was damaged “as a result of a pipe bursting in a utility closet and spraying on an electrical box” last Friday.

At about 2:15 p.m., said business administrator Valery Petrone, fire alarms went off during an assembly, startling everyone, as the school’s scheduled fire drill for the month of June had already been held and it was very near to the end of the school day.

“It was chaos,” said Petrone. “It’s very upsetting when the fire alarm goes off and you know it’s not a drill.”

The pipe was part of the sprinkler system and located in the same boiler room as the fire alarm system. The pipe must have decayed to a point where it couldn’t stand the pressure anymore and burst, according to Petrone.

Because repairs would take several days, it became clear that a substitute warning system would need to be devised in order to avoid closing the school so near the end of the school calendar. The year ends June 19.

As the graduation dates have already been set, closing was not considered a viable option. Parents also tend to not appreciate the disruption in their work and family schedules, especially with vacations planned, she said.

Over what Petrone called “a long weekend,” administrators developed an alternative plan with the aid and endorsement of Fair Haven Fire Chief Bill Heath.

The plan calls for a “fire watch” protocol. Approved also by Rumson’s fire-code officer, the Red Bank Fire Marshal, it requires a monitor to walk the building throughout the day and check in at designated points every 20 minutes.

“Each ‘check-in’ is recorded on a data sheet and these sheets will ultimately be provided to the Fire Marshall for his files,” Cronin wrote. “The monitor carries a walkie-talkie at all times so he/she can be in instant contact with administrators and staff members throughout the building who also carry radios. We feel this plan ensures the safety of staff and students until the fire alarm system is fully operational.”

Petrone said school officials hope to have the new alarm panel delivered and installed by Thursday morning.

In addition, every pipe in the building will be checked over the summer to prevent a similar occurrence .

Meantime, parents don’t seem to to be on edge about the interim solution, said Petrone.

“I think it helps that we have the fire chief and fire marshal doing this with us. People trust them, and the chief comes in every day to double-check,” she said.

Here’s the full text of Cronin’s email:

Dear Knollwood Parents,

As a result of a pipe bursting in a utility closet and spraying on an electrical box, the fire alarm system at Knollwood School is currently not operating. As a result, we were faced with closing school until the system is repaired which will likely be several days, or developing a plan which would allow us to remain open.

With the help and support of the Fair Haven Fire Department and local Fire Chief, Bill Heath, we developed a plan using a “fire watch” protocol. This plan, which was approved by the Red Bank Fire Marshall, requires us to utilize a monitor who continuously walks the building and checks in at designated points every 20 minutes. Each “check-in” is recorded on a data sheet and these sheets will ultimately be provided to the Fire Marshall for his files. The monitor carries a walkie-talkie at all times so he/she can be in instant contact with administrators and staff members throughout the building who also carry radios.

We feel this plan ensures the safety of staff and students until the fire alarm system is fully operational. We are hopeful that this project can be completed by mid-week and we will continue to use the current fire watch protocol until the system is fully functioning.

Thank you,

Kathi Cronin

[Correction, June 14, 2012: The original letter by the superintendent said the fire-watch plan had been approved by the Red Bank Fire Marshal. That was incorrect; Rumson, not Red Bank, provides fire code service to Fair Haven under a local services agreement, and the plan was approved by Rumson fire subcode official Michael Marra, Superintendent Kathi Cronin says.]