News

Nelson pushes for fire sprinklers

Trustee wants to install fire prevention systems in schools using Measure G funds

Just as he promised, a local school board trustee is continuing his push to get fire sprinklers installed throughout the Mountain View Whisman School District.

At a recent special study session held to bring the district's board of trustees up to speed on the progress of Measure G projects, newly elected trustee Steve Nelson invited Harold Schapelhouman, chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, to speak to the importance of installing fire sprinklers in all buildings throughout the district. He asked that the board use a portion of the $198 million Measure G bond to install these fire protection systems.

Some might be surprised to learn that a school board would need to be asked to install fire sprinklers. But because they have been subject to different building codes than business and residential buildings, many older schools do not have fire sprinklers or alarms. Additionally, while a 2002 law mandated that all new school buildings and any school facilities undergoing significant repair or renovation would be required to install sprinklers, the law included one exemption. If a school project is paid for entirely through local funds, the installation of fire sprinklers and alarm systems is not mandatory.

Because the fire prevention systems can be costly, school districts have been known to forgo installing them -- opting instead to purchase insurance that would replace buildings lost in a fire.

Taking this approach is a mistake, according to Schapelhouman. Though he acknowledged that many school fires occur at night when no one is around to be hurt, that doesn't rule out the possibility of a school catching fire during the day.

At Green Oaks Family Academy Elementary School in East Palo Alto, a child heading to the restroom noticed a fire burning in a nearby school building. If it had not been for this child, many children may have died. "The kids got out just in the nick of time," Schapelhouman said.

He asked that the board adopt a resolution to not take advantage of the exemption in the law, and install fire sprinklers in all district buildings.

Superintendent Craig Goldman said that he understands Nelson's and Schapelhouman's urgency but that he also understands rationale behind not installing fire sprinklers. Goldman noted that no student has died in a school fire in California since 1933. That doesn't mean he wouldn't support installation of some fire prevention systems, he said.

"We want to install sprinklers where they're appropriate, not as a blanket rule," he told the Voice.

Board memeber Phil Palmer seems to share Goldman's view. After the presentation by Chief Schapelhouman, he proposed that the board look into areas where they felt sprinklers would be most likely to save lives, install them there, and forgo installing them in buildings where students seldom go.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 8, 2013 at 6:26 am

Wow! A politician actually doing something he promised to do if he got elected! You have all my support Mr. Nelson.


3 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:51 am

Not going to say we shouldn't spend money on fire sprinklers, we also need to spend money on earthquake. In recent events we need to spend money student, teacher and playground safety. Secure those schools.


3 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:52 am

Waste of money. Period.

I've had to deal with fire supression systems in the past.

Fire sprinklers are a maintenance hassle and cause many false alarms (most systems have flow alarms) and more accidental water damage (pipes break, someone snaps a sprinkler head off) than any damage they may prevent from an actual fire.

As Mr. Goldman noted. A child has not died in a school fire since 1933. What issue is Mr. Nelson trying to address here? Surely there are more pressing needs in our schools.

I promise we'll be reading stories about how the music teacher came in Monday morning and saw a water fall coming out of the band storage room. All the instruments ruined.

Just something to think about.


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

Please note that Mountain View City over many decades in the late twentieth century was a national leader in automatic fire sprinkler safety codes. The issues of automatic fire suppression in schools is covered in several civil grand jury reports in the last few years in both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Garret is right - there are several buildings that the Conditions & Needs structural analysis identified as 3rd class (just above replace as earthquake hazard). Should these buildings be left, reinforced, or bulldozed and entirely replaced? It's all a matter of public policy priorities isn't it?
one of five MVWSD Trustees


3 people like this
Posted by Interested observer
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I find it interesting that Mr. Nelson, in his capacity as a trustee, is taking on the role of the President of the Board who normally speaks for the Board. His motives are unclear and suspect. More information from experts in fire suppression is needed before I would support his opinion re: fire sprinklers in the schools.


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm

@interested, I hope you are interested enough to read the article in the Voice. The "expert in fire suppression" is the Menlo Park fire marshal who spoke. The second person who offered to come down to our county and speak (though a lay expert) was a Director of the Meno Park Fire Protection District. Both these people have much more experience with the topic than Superintendent Goldman. The school Administration implements the Policy of a majority of the Board. Neither the Superintendent (Administration) or the School Board President by themselves set Policy. It is decided by a majority of the Board!
Steven Nelson
one of five MVWSD Trustees
(BTW - I have 50 signatures of school parents who want this topic discussed by the Board - is that sufficient?)


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Jun 2, 2017 at 1:26 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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