The Howard Beach community and concerned parents are tired of dealing with a hot issue at local school P.S. 207.
When Sandy swept through the region, it took the school’s fire alarm system with it. Since reopening on January 2, the school has operated without any fire alarm.
“First their homes are destroyed, now they don’t even have a safe place to go to school,” said Alison Jasiak, whose six-year-old son attends P.S. 207.
The fire alarm system was located in the basement, unlike surrounding schools that have theirs on the first floor. During the storm, the basement filled with oil and water, destroying P.S. 207’s system.
Moreover, P.S. 207’s fire alarm system used parts that are now obsolete. Other neighborhood schools had newer systems for which replacement parts are available.
Since the school reopened, it has had 12 Fire Watch guards provided by the Department of Education (DOE) to monitor the building for any signs of smoke. A spokesperson said relying on the guards is “an acceptable practice, and the school is safe.”
However, parents such as Jasiak remain unconvinced.
“Who says the fire guards are sufficient?” she said. “Is your child in the school?”
In the event a watchman smells or sees any sort of fire, procedure calls for him or her to go to the main office, which then calls the fire department.
“You’ve just wasted three or four minutes when the kids could have already been on their way out,” Jasiak said.
The School Construction Authority (SCA) and the DOE are waiting for FEMA funds to install a fire system, but there is no timetable for the money.
Councilmember Eric Ulrich sent a letter on Friday, July 19 to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and SCA President Lorraine Grillo describing the issue in detail and requesting that the organizations expedite the installation of a new fire alarm system. He has not yet received a response.
“With all that my constituents have going on while they try to rebuild from Sandy, they should at least have the peace of mind that the school their child attends has a functional fire alarm system,” Ulrich said.
His office has received numerous complaints on the matter from parents.
Once installation begins, completion could take up to a year, Ulrich said. The DOE said FEMA is reviewing the cost of reimbursing a replacement alarm system at P.S. 207 and that more information will be available once the review is complete. The Fire Watch costs roughly $13,000 per week.
Without a fire alarm system, the school has shut down afterschool and night programs.
“There are so many more issues that this one issue has created,” Jasiak said. “The only ones who are suffering are the children and us.”
“You throw your hands up in the air because you don’t know what else to do,” she said.