Built before current fire code, two Weston schools lack sprinklers

WESTON — For the last two years, officials have discussed potential renovations or remodels for the Weston School District. A report on Monday that looked at whether the district should maintain, renovate or build new buildings for three of its schools.

According to the report, needs for the Hurlbutt Elementary School and Weston Middle School vary, except in one category: both lack sprinkler systems.

As of July 1, 2004, according to section 29-315 of the Connecticut General Statutes, any building built as an educational occupancy is required to have an automatic fire extinguishing system on each floor.

However, these two schools are not required to have sprinkler systems, as each was built before the statute and have not been remodeled since.

According to Director of Facilities of Weston Public Schools Michael DelMastro, there was an addition to the high school in 2005 and 2006, which required sprinklers to be introduced to the entire building. The intermediate school was built around the same time, which is also why it has a sprinkler system.

According to the state’s website, schools are also able to request a variation or exemption from the requirements of that statute.

Despite the lack of a sprinkler system, DelMastro said the schools are safe in the case of a fire.

DelMastro said the fire alarms work well and are in each of the buildings. Between the schools and other educational buildings, he said there are about 1,000 smoke detectors.

He said if there is a fault, they make a service call, and a company will come out to replace whatever needs to be fixed.

“An individual head is never down for, say, more than 12 hours,” DelMastro said.

DelMastro described what would happen in the case of a fire, saying that the protocol is the same as the buildings that do have sprinklers.

He said that a sprinkler is used more to save a building than for “life safety.”

Sprinklers also only come on due to certain factors, such as temperature, DelMastro also said.

“It doesn’t come on just because there’s smoke in the air,” he said.

DelMastro said they perform six fire drills and three emergency drills every year at each of the schools, including two by the end of September.

“They have evacuation routes depending on what part of the buildings that they’re in,” he said. “They have their predetermined exit doors, and where they line up outside.”

In every classroom, DelMastro said, there are pamphlets with guidelines for specific emergency situations.

DelMastro also said for safety protocols, each school has Fire Marshal John Pokorny come in to assess the building. He checks anything that is plugged into the walls, which, unless it is school-related, isn’t allowed.

Then, the insurance company checks mechanical rooms and electrical closets, and removes anything that isn’t allowed in there.

He said that these walk-throughs happen at least twice a year and cover nearly every square inch of the buildings.

Pokorny also said that the fire alarm systems are inspected on a regular basis, and the reports usually have few problems.

DelMastro said that it is common for schools in Connecticut to not have sprinkler systems, though the state department of education couldn’t confirm.

“Anything built has to have sprinkler systems now,” he said. “There’s definitely schools out there that have some age to them that just don’t have sprinklers.”

DelMastro also talked about the distance between the schools, fire and police departments.

“We’re lucky, everything is in one parcel of land within 400 acres,” he said. “I’m definitely confident that we run enough drills and enough redundancies that even if the fire department was five/ten miles away, that we would still have the kids out safely.”

Pokorny also commented on their preventative measures. He said also said that there are multiple drills per year and stop, drop and roll is still taught, along with evacuations and finding a safe place.

DelMastro said that there isn’t currently a plan to get sprinklers in the two schools, unless there is some sort of renovation. Pokorny also confirmed that if renovations or new buildings occur, sprinkler systems would have to be installed.

It is an intrusive process, according to DelMastro, where there would need to be piping through all the ceilings and main lines through every hallway.

DelMastro said the sprinklers aren’t necessary for safety, alone. The schools take numerous precautions, including the frequent fire drills that include Pokorny, police officers and central office administrators whenever possible.

“I believe the (alarm) systems are working properly at this point,” Pokorny said.

There are also exit doors close to every classroom and shorter corridors, so he said they would be able to get everybody out in the case of an emergency.

“I feel extremely confident that we’re safe over here,” he said.

Members of the Weston PTO and the head of the Teacherss Association couldn’t be immediately reached for comments.

kayla.mutchler@hearstmediact.com