Last fall, more than 100 parents crowded into the Salt Lake Board of Education meeting room demanding a safe Uintah Elementary School.
They had reason for concern. The state fire marshal had threatened to close the 78-year-old building, citing it for more than 30 fire-code violations.Many were minor, others more serious. One deficiency, however, was glaring. The fifth grades, located on the structure's second floor, had only one stairway to use in an emergency. If it were blocked, the children could be trapped in a fire. Chain ladders could be dropped from second-story windows, but they ended 10 feet above the ground.
Steve Harman, buildings and grounds director, said the district had known about Uintah's problems for a couple of years, but the fire marshal had given some latitude in correcting the deficiencies because the district was debating the school's fate.
Since then, the district has decided to either rebuild or renovate Uintah in 1993.
In the meantime, the parents got their wish. A second stairway, costing $35,438, was built to the fifth-grade classes.
Uintah was the district's worst building for fire-code violations, said Harman. The district's second-oldest elementary school, Whittier, doesn't have such serious life-safety problems.
In the past two decades, the district has either closed or replaced many of its older schools, eliminating many life-safety violations.
But that doesn't mean the district is violation-free. "You could go into any building in this state and find some things that don't 100 percent meet the code," Harman said.
The district plans to correct any life-safety problems when it repairs or replaces schools for seismic safety in its 20-year construction project that begins in 1992.
Salt Lake District sends its own inspectors to the schools. City fire inspectors also visit the schools annually. The state fire marshal sends inspectors, but not yearly, Harman said.
By law, schools must report immediately any fire, even a small one confined to a garbage can, to the local fire department. Harman said he requires school principals to call him, too.
"They resist on something like a garbage can, but a fire can get out of hand very quickly. If you listen to the fire marshals, they don't like to mess around. If anything burns, they like to be out there," Harman said.
He said Salt Lake schools are equipped with smoke detectors and heat sensors in every room. Most pull alarms have been removed from the corridors, particularly at the high schools, to reduce the number of false alarms turned in by student pranksters.