Granite District, the state's largest, plays a never-ending game of catch-up trying to bring buildings up to fire codes.

It would take many millions of dollars to completely comply with modern fire codes - and they're always changing, said Ross Wentworth, director of school facilities."We'll probably never get them all up to current code," he said.

The district spends $150,000 to $200,000 for safety upgrading each year.

Nevertheless, Wentworth believes Granite's 78,000 students are at least as safe at school as they are at home.

"Schools by their nature are safe. People are in them during the day. They don't sleep there. And the buildings are well-constructed, usually of brick."

Children know better how to get out of a school in a fire or other emergency than they do at home, Wentworth said. At least once a month, schools hold required fire drills.

The district's 120 buildings are inspected on a rotating basis by employees trained by the state fire marshal, said Harry Allred, head of the electrical and fire control department. Ten to 12 buildings are inspected each year - about 10 percent of the total.

"We go to the oldest buildings first," said Allred. For several decades, Granite had explosive growth, rapidly adding new schools to house a burgeoning student population. Older schools, most of them on the west side of the district, have not been replaced as fast as the district would like.

Allred added fire inspections to his list of duties when the state fire marshal's office concluded it couldn't get to schools fast enough with its limited personnel. Four large districts are experimenting with a project having their own people do the inspections.

When Granite's inspectors find a serious safety problem, immediate action is taken to remedy it. "The district finds the money somewhere. We're very conscious of life-safety issues." Less serious problems go on a priority list that is discussed once a month.

The district installed new Class A fire alarm systems in three schools last year and has a goal of two per year - and the alarms are all in working condition, Allred said. All the district's schools are tied to a central computer that alerts safety personnel immediately if a fire or smoke alarm goes off.