Some schools fail to meet fire drill requirements, but are requirements outdated?

Some schools fail to meet fire drill requirements, but are requirements outdated? (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Just two months ago, we got a firsthand look at the importance of evacuations drills. Students from two Davis County elementary schools had to be quickly evacuated as a wildfire was bearing down on the campuses. It went smoothly that day. Teachers and parents credited the success with having recently practiced evacuating.

Being prepared is mandated by Utah law. Fire and emergency drills are required nine times per school year for elementary schools and five times for junior high and high schools.

But a Get Gephardt investigation found that some schools are not doing as many drills as they are required to under Utah law.

Parents with kids in Granite School District, Jordan School District and Canyons School District, you’ll be happy to hear that those districts are at the head of the class. Each has a perfect record for its drills.

But in Davis School District, Salt Lake School District, and Alpine School District, some administrators are not making the grade.

Within Davis, 10 schools failed to perform at least one of the mandated safety drills.

"If we have one school that is not in compliance, that's one too many," Davis’ spokesman Chris Williams said.

And he said there are no excuses; they need to better comply with the law.

"I would want my school, if I had my student going to this school, to be compliant with all the drills, no question about it," he said.

Williams said the issue was on Davis' radar, but has now been pushed up on the priority list.

"What this [reporting] does is it gives us more of an emphasis,” he said. “It isn't just us talking. It's the media saying, ‘Hey, you know, you may want to pay more attention to this.’"

In Salt Lake City School District, eight schools missed at least one of the required drills.

"Honestly, there's a lot going on at our schools,” district spokeswoman Yandary Chatwin said. "I don't think it's that anybody doesn't prioritize these drills. It's just that with so much on their plates, it might be easy for that to slip through the cracks."

But the Salt Lake City School District recognizes the delinquency is not okay. Chatwin said the district is cracking down on its principals, now requiring them to report every single month that all drill have been completed.

Utah’s worst marks go to Alpine, the state's largest district. Last year, 12 schools had missed one or more drills.

But as district spokesperson Kimberly Bird said, the problem may be with the law.

"We're more heavily focused on fire drills, and yet, when was the last time we had a fire occur at our school?" she said.

Bird said, last year, no fires, but there were two violent incidents at Alpine schools including a student who stabbed five of his classmates before stabbing himself.

Utah law does already allow for schools to swap some fire drills for other types of drills, like practicing a lockdown, but Alpine thinks they should be able to scrap more of fire drills.

"The principals need to have the flexibility to run whatever types of safety emergency drills they need to for their particular community, for the times, so they're not held hostage to an old maybe outdated law," she said.

Alpine School District said it will approach the state legislature and ask them to change the law, cutting down on the number of required fire drills. Bird says the Alpine School District is glad this is an issue that is getting attention.

"I’m glad that you're doing this piece and we're having a conversation about this, because really, the code does need to change," she said.

Just this past week, Utah schools have experienced at least 11 lockdown, lockout, or shelter-in-place incidents including Tuesday when a man with a gun approached a Park City High School.

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