Some fire agencies oppose proposed bill on secondary barriers in schools.
WEST BEND — Lawmakers are considering a bill allowing schools to install a secondary barrier device to keep students and staff safe against a school threat, but some emergency response agencies claim it’s actually more dangerous.
The fire code in Wisconsin addresses door locks, stating some are permitted with department approval if the facility adheres to several regulations. But West Bend Fire Department Captain of Fire Prevention Kenny Asselin said history shows the danger of some locking devices in emergency situations. “There is a belief that school fires don’t happen anymore,” Asselin said.
“One thing the report notes is there are an average of 4,980 structure fires in educational properties annually in the U.S. That means there are about 13 or 14 school fires each day.” One of the fire service’s concerns, he said, is utilizing fire as a weapon. “Even though there are many schools that are sprinklered, not every school has a full sprinkler system,” Asselin said.
“If someone were to use fire or an explosive as a weapon, the ensuing fire could overrun or damage the sprinkler system and make it ineffective in suppressing the fire.” Waukesha Fire Department Assistant Chief Joseph Hoffman explained the challenges that come with the proposed new devices and why it may not be the solution lawmakers intended.
“There are areas of concern with the locking devices, but we’ve been able to work around them and are looking into better practices,” Hoffman said. “I prefer the hard corner rules — keeping people sheltered all the way and bettering practices for securing the rooms, not a barricade situation that could produce problems in the response end.” The hard corner rules are keeping doors closed and teaching how to keep classes dark and pushing people in the class from the line of sight.
The theory, Hoffman said, is that a shooter will not go for a class that looks empty or has a door that is difficult to open. These proposed secondary locking devices could be a problem for emergency responders, he said, which is why he appreciates the good working relationship between police, schools and fire departments to discuss how one decision could affect the others.
The harder it is for a dangerous person to enter, the harder it also is for those coming to help. “It’s a fair assessment that any door a shooter can’t easily open they will move beyond — that’s what previous incidents have shown and what we make our decisions based on,” Hoffman said. “So securing doors, not through barri-cades, is the best solution to our community’s risk.”
Each group has a role in the response and continues to look into bettering them-selves to contribute strong-ly to school and overall com-munity safety, Hoffman said. One proposed idea to go hand in hand with the hard corner rule is painting lines of sight in the rooms, he said, to show students and staff how far into the room a shooter can see.
Then, they can step back behind that line and theo-retically be out of harm’s way. This concept is popular in Texas and Florida, Hoff-man said. “It is a rapidly changing and adapting environment, so we continue to look at new solutions,” he said. “For our community now, we have chosen that some of these devices just aren’t the answer for our community.” At this time, even if the bill does pass in Madison, it may not pass in Waukesha or West Bend.