Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
December 2005
Fire Drills Integral to Student Safety

More schools around the state of Wisconsin are conducting the required number of fire drills and more are filing their paperwork to prove it. Based on current statistics more than three-quarters of public and private schools that reported to the state held monthly fire drills last school year, as required by law. An equal percentage reported their drills to the state, also a requirement.

A current Appleton Post Crescent newspaper investigative report found the second consecutive improvement for Appleton area schools. Still, 43 schools missed at least one fire drill last year and 50 schools didn't turn in paperwork.

Although pleased with the improvement, Ronald Buchholz, deputy division administrator of the Division of Safety & Buildings (S&B), Department of Commerce, the agency that oversees the fire drill rules, said he wants to see full compliance.
"We wouldn't want to rest on that," Buchholz said. "We want to applaud the schools and the fire departments for the increased improvement, but it should be 100 percent. They should have one drill a month in every school, every month of the school year."

State law directs all schools to hold monthly fire drills. The Appleton Post-Crescent reviewed the past three school years and found that dozens of schools routinely miss drills, although compliance is improving.

Of 243 schools counted by the state Department of Public Instruction last year in Calumet, Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago counties, 193 filed fire drill reports. Of those, 150 or 78 percent met the nine-drill requirement. The 50 non-filers represented 21 percent of area schools.

The numbers are a marked improvement from two years ago, when just 53 percent of schools that filed reports held at least nine drills and almost half of all area schools did not report. The most recent compliance marks are slightly higher than those in 2003-04, when 73 percent of filers met the rule and about a third of all schools failed to report.

For the past two years, S&B staff has worked to educate school leaders and fire officials about the requirements of the law. The department has given presentations at conferences around the state attended by school and fire officials.

"We are promoting, reminding and communicating to them regarding their responsibilities to do the drills and get the forms in to us," Mr. Buchholz said. "We are seeing there is a better understanding of what their responsibilities are."

Commerce recommends that schools have a fire official on hand for at least one drill a year, although it's not a requirement. According to state records, 37 area schools did not have fire officials attend any drills last year.

Badger Elementary School in Grand Chute held 10 fire drills last year. Principal Bill McClone said the drills are "definitely important."

"It's the preparation aspect; it's to make sure everybody knows exactly what to do and how to be safe."

-- Henry Kosarzycki

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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