Schools without working fire alarms after Sandy

Seven On Your Side
September 6, 2013 2:52:25 PM PDT
New York Public Schools are back in session on Monday, some students whose schools were destroyed by Sandy are returning to their buildings for the first time since the storm.

But for thousands, their schools will be missing something: working fire alarms!

Parents alarmed this could happen, reached out the 7 on your side for answers.

Would you send your kid to school with no working fire alarms? As the school year begins, that's the question scores of parents at four of New York public schools are asking themselves.

"We need safety in our kids' school," said Lina Elshawari, a parent.

Brought to tears out of fear her three kids could die in a fire while at school, Lina Elshawari says New York City should be ashamed it's allowing students inside a school with no working fire alarms.

"There's nothing for a teacher on the wall to pull that's what it comes down to," said Steven Jasiak, a P.S. 207 parent.

P.S. 207, the Howard Beach elementary school where their kids go, hasn't had functional fire alarms since October 29th.

The system, housed in the school basement along with the boiler, was destroyed during Superstorm Sandy and it's still not fixed in time for this school year.

"I feel that the city can do better than this, we don't need these people here," Elshawari said.

The "people" she's referring to are 12 "fire watchmen" hired by the city at a cost to taxpayers of $13,000 per week, to act as human fire alarms inside P.S. 207.

"The fact that the fire guard has to smell, see, who knows how long that could take for that person to alert the main office, when the children could hear a bell being pulled and already be in on their way out you're talking minutes," said Alison Jasiak, a P.S. 207 parent.

P.S. 207 isn't alone. 7 On Your Side found three other schools, P.S. 105, P.S. 256, and Beach Channel High School in the Rockaways, all without working fire alarms and all with "fire watchmen". The Department of Education would not tell Eyewitness News what it all costs.

"It's a waste of time and a waste of money," City Councilmember Eric Ulrich said.

Why haven't the fire alarms been fixed? Councilmember Eric Ulrich says he got an answer that's unacceptable.

"The SCA and Department of Education are saying that they are waiting for the FEMA reimbursement and the federal money to come in so they can make necessary repairs," Councilman Ulrich said.

"It goes, ding, ding, ding, and everyone lines up and then we walk towards the door," a student said.

Every kid knows how to react when they hear the sound of their schools alarm.

These kids at 207 say they haven't been instructed on what to do under the "Watchmen's Watch".

"We haven't had a fire drill since Sandy," a student said.

Parents say they were told it works like this: if a watchman detects smoke or fire, they run to the main office, a PA announcement is made, and then the FDNY Fire is called by someone in the office.

The city's Department of Education told Eyewitness News they're waiting for FEMA reimbursement, but FEMA says they don't make payouts until work begins on the fire alarms and the School Construction authority provides them proof of payment.

Of course, no work has been done on any alarms to date.

"It's insane, it's absolutely insane that the city would spend that kinds of money week after week without the professional alarm system being repaired," Jasiak said.

"Sandy came and we fixed our houses for our kids' safety, we need safety in our kids' school!" Elshawari said.