I-Team 8: Dozens of Indiana schools failing to perform fire drills

An I-Team 8 investigation revealed more than 70 central Indiana schools failed to perform the required number of fire drills. (WISH photo)
An I-Team 8 investigation revealed more than 70 central Indiana schools failed to perform the required number of fire drills. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Administrators with Indiana’s largest school district admit that they failed to properly monitor which schools performed monthly fire drills, following an I-Team 8 investigation.

What’s more, the district cannot explain what led to the lack of supervision.

That acknowledgment follows a months-long I-Team 8 investigation that found more than 70 central Indiana schools failed to perform or record the recommended number of fire drills during the last academic school year.

Those discoveries by I-Team 8 are raising serious questions about how well school safety is prioritized and if Indiana students are being placed at risk.

“You don’t want to learn the protocol when you actually have a fire or an emergency. Those drills are there for very good reason,” said Robert Solomon with the National Fire Protection Association, the non-profit agency that sets the national standard at ten per year in schools.

While Indiana does not adhere to the NFPA’s standards, 38 states do, Solomon said.

I-Team 8’s analysis found more than half of Indianapolis Public Schools – 36 out of the 64 schools reviewed – failed to perform a fire drill each month school was in session.

When asked about this performance, Solomon said: “They are falling way short.”

A spokesman for Indiana’s Department of Homeland Security, which encompasses the state fire marshal’s office, told I-Team 8 that penalties could be assessed, but that those are used only if problems persist.

“Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the State Fire Marshal look at each school’s record individually. We certainly urge monthly qualified drills to adhere to state law and for the safety of Indiana’s school children, however, the agency is not looking to penalize schools if they are generally completing drills and making a good faith effort to be compliant with state law,” the email from the department stated.

Through an open records request, I-Team 8 examined more than 2,000 pages worth of school safety records for the last three years of more than 200 area schools.

What we found:

  • 72 out of 203 central Indiana schools fell short of the performing ten fire drills in the 2015-2016 school year
  • More than half of all IPS schools performed less than 10 fire drills last year
  • 15 IPS schools have failed to meet the NFPA standard two years in a row
  • One IPS school performed two fire drills during 2015-2016 school year

When pressed about how this happened, IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee declined to comment, saying he would speak to a reporter after Tuesday’s night’s school board meeting. He left the room shortly after that meeting adjourned.

A district spokeswoman then referred I-Team 8 to Scott Martin, IPS’ Deputy Superintendent of Operations.

“We’ve reviewed those records as well and as we can tell there is a significant need for improvement,” Scott Martin, Deputy Superintendent for Operations told I-Team 8 during an interview Tuesday night. “It’s the district’s responsibility to make sure those happen…”

When it was pointed out that the district wasn’t doing that, Martin replied: “That’s why we have put things in place to make sure that does not happen again.”

As a result of I-Team 8’s investigation, Martin said he met with district principals to discuss the importance of the drills. The district now plans to conduct monthly assessments of schools rather than random ones; and all schools within IPS will be on a set calendar for both fire and disaster-preparedness drills.

A copy of that set drill calendar was provided to I-Team 8 Wednesday.

To find out how your schools performed click these links:

Central Indiana Schools

Indianapolis Public Schools

I-Team 8 discovered that schools like McFarland Middle School performed two fire drills last year. James Whitcomb Riley Elementary performed just three, according to the district’s own records. Sidener Academy has failed to meet the district’s requirements for the past two academic years in a row. Parents we spoke to say they are pleased with the school, but blamed the oversight on a changeover in administrations.

Indiana state law does require that schools perform monthly fire drills, but the law also allows school districts the ability to substitute other disaster-preparedness drills — like lockdowns, earthquake or tornado drills – in place of a monthly fire drill. Those substitutions cannot occur, however, in back to back months or more than twice per semester, according to state law.

When pressed further about why the drills weren’t performed and why the district failed to monitor the schools, Martin said: “I can’t answer that. I don’t know. We follow up the best we can on them and obviously we did not do the job we needed to do to make sure the schools were compliant.”

“That’s terrible. They need to definitely step that up.” said Keith Finkton, a parent at one of the IPS schools that performed three fire drills during the 2015-2016 school year.

An IPS spokeswoman provided I-Team 8 with the following statement regarding our findings:

Indianapolis Public Schools is committed to ensuring the safety of our students and staff at all times. Our safety protocols mandated for all schools include a schedule of fire, tornado, earthquake and manmade hazard drills in alignment with state law. Our data in recent years highlights opportunities for significant improvement in compliance with our district drill schedule. We have enhanced our district monitoring and support processes and we are pleased to report that all IPS schools are current on their drill requirements for August and September of this school year. We look forward to collaborating with our school leaders to ensure this trend continues for a successful and safe school year. – Indianapolis Public Schools

I-Team 8 was also provided a copy of the district’s new drill schedule, which took effect after we notified the district of our findings:

The image of the new schedule is below:

 

ips-new-drill-schedule.

 

Watch I-Team 8’s investigation tonight at 10 p.m. to hear more results of the investigation and the reaction from parents.