When the fire alarm went off at Southampton High School at 9:24 on Monday morning, it was not a drill. Everyone was evacuated safely in three minutes and 34 seconds as firefighters rushed to the school: A burning smell had been reported in the building, a fire department official said afterward, attributing it to a burned-out motor in a heating and ventilation unit.
That incident was hardly major, but it underscored the importance of safety codes and procedures in schools. The results of the most recent annual fire inspections at South Fork schools, obtained via Freedom of Information requests, present a mixed report card: Some of the smaller East End districts were found to be entirely in compliance with state safety rules, and others had only a handful of issues, but three school districts had multiple violations. Many could be characterized as minor.
In the East Hampton School District, 18 violations were noted at the high school, 12 at the middle school, and 15 at the elementary school. A district representative said that all of them have been resolved, with renewed certificates of occupancy received on March 18, 23, and 16, respectively.
Among the issues at East Hampton High School were two obstructed rescue windows, seven unlabeled rescue windows, and a handful of broken or missing exit signs. Combustible materials were stored improperly in three electrical utility closets, and a microwave, coffee maker, and other appliances were found plugged into prohibited electrical power strips. In one classroom, too many decorations covered the walls; according to state code, at least 50 percent of each classroom wall must be free of adornments.
At East Hampton Middle School and the John M. Marshall Elementary School, an inspector noted a handful of issues with fire extinguishers, several blocked doors, fire doors left ajar, a stairwell partially obstructed by storage boxes, flammable materials kept improperly, and a few prohibited extension cords.
“Every bit of this is 100 percent incredibly serious, and our reaction to it is that it’s not something you try to make excuses for,” Adam Fine, East Hampton’s superintendent, said Monday. “You just fix the violations immediately. . . . It’s obviously something each year that we’re attentive to. It’s very important to us to make sure everything is safe.”
He said the district is planning to do more frequent inspections on its own throughout the year, “not just when we know an inspection is coming up.”
In the Springs School District, which is in the process of wrapping up a $23 million expansion and renovation project, an inspector encountered at least 17violations during his Feb. 14 visit. Among them were unlabeled emergency-exit windows in three classrooms and two that were blocked in other classrooms, including one that was “obstructed by decorations.” The library lacked a mounted fire extinguisher; an emergency strobe light was covered by tape in one instance, and one classroom was missing an illuminated exit sign. The inspector noted combustible materials improperly stored in an electrical closet; “multiple appliances” plugged into a prohibited power strip, and an extension cord running through an open basement window to charge a golf cart parked outside.
Michael Henery, the Springs business administrator, explained in an email this week that the inspections are “a normal process all districts must go through every 11 months.”
The issues in Springs “were minor,” Mr. Henery said. “Things like a bulb in an emergency-exit sign needed to be replaced or there was a warning light that malfunctioned. . . . We were able to clear all items within days of the original inspection and submitted the inspection reports to the state in order to receive our certificates of occupancy.”
The Bridgehampton School District, which also just completed a new addition to its building, received a handful of violations during a Feb. 23 inspection. Of note were missing fire extinguishers in the art room, auditorium, and maintenance building; several missing emergency-exit window stickers, and “daisy-chained surge protectors” that had to be remedied. Southampton Town’s follow-up visit on April 1 showed most violations had been resolved.
A Feb. 3 inspection at the Sag Harbor Elementary School revealed a minor issue pertaining to “storage of clothing and personal belongings in corridors.” The report noted that the issue had been corrected immediately. Everything checked out at Pierson Middle and High School and the Sag Harbor Learning Center.
In a Feb. 24 letter to the Amagansett School administration, East Hampton Town lauded the district for passing its inspection with flying colors. “We would like to congratulate you on this attention to fire safety in your place of business. It is through such cooperation and concern for fire safety practices that we enjoy a safe community,” the letter reads.
East Hampton and Southampton town inspectors also found everything in compliance at the Montauk School, Wainscott School, and Sagaponack School.
In most cases, the fire inspection reports also noted the time it takes each school to fully evacuate during routine fire drills. East Hampton’s campuses average two minutes per drill, Mr. Fine said. In Sag Harbor, the average drill took three minutes and eight seconds at the elementary school, three minutes and 40 seconds at Pierson, and four minutes and 35 seconds at the Sag Harbor Learning Center. At the Montauk School, the average fire drill took two minutes and nine seconds. In Bridgehampton, they took an average of five minutes and 15 seconds. The Springs School’s average fire drill response was approximately two minutes.
The region’s smaller school districts stood out with the fastest fire drills. Sagaponack, with 11 students, took an average of 28 seconds to fully evacuate the building, while Wainscott, with 23 kids, logged times between 90 and 100 seconds. In Amagansett, where enrollment is approximately 130, drills took about 62 seconds.
Unrelated to the incident at Southampton High School on Monday, a district representative said Southampton is “unable to respond” at this time to a Freedom of Information request seeking the fire inspection report.