Poor Fire Safety at Two-Thirds of Schools in Oregon’s Largest City

April 26, 2017

Two-thirds of schools in Oregon’s largest district lack sufficient fire safety equipment, according to records obtained by the Oregonian/OregonLive.

Portland Public Schools has 60 of 89 schools lacking up-to-date alarm systems, complete fire sensor coverage or other life-saving equipment required by fire and rescue standards, the paper reported Wednesday.

“There is a very high likelihood that kids would get out of the school if there is a fire,” District Interim Chief Operating Officer Courtney Wilton said. “But I’m not going to say it’s adequate because there are a number of buildings where we need to do a better job.”

District officials acknowledged they need to prioritize repairs. They voted in March to place the largest school construction bond in state history on the upcoming ballot – a $790 million bond.

But even with the bond money, Portland schools would not be fully outfitted.

Officials estimate it would cost $131 million to put complete fire systems in all its schools. The district’s plan is to devote one-fifth that amount, $26 million, to schools in need.

Fire officials said this amount should be enough to fix more than what is essentially needed in the schools.

In 2009, a fire engulfed one of the district’s elementary schools.

All 500 students, faculty and staff were able to make it out unharmed.

School fires are “an immediate disaster that can happen really fast, and then everything changes,” said Lana Penley, the school’s principal. “Having experienced it, absolutely, it is a very big issue and one that should be at the forefront of everything that is getting addressed.”

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