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On February 19, a fiery explosion occurred during a demonstration in a cooking class at Northside College Prep High School in Chicago. The fire occurred when students ignited a gas burner to heat hot chocolate. According to Chicago Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford, the fire shot up to the ceiling and the school’s fire sprinkler system quickly extinguished it.
Although five students were injured in the explosion, it could have been even worse says fire safety proponent Tom Lia, executive director of the nonprofit Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board.
“We never want to see students injured in any type of fire or explosion. But it’s reassuring to know that the fire was not able to spread and injure others within the classroom and other parts of the school thanks to the quick action of the fire sprinkler system,” states Lia. “Incidents like this fire demonstrate the need for fire safety protection in our schools. As a parent, I would want to know that my child is safe from fire while at school.”
Unfortunately, Lia says some Illinois schools are choosing not to include fire sprinklers in new renovations solely because state law does not require them to do so. On February 13, the school board in west suburban Forest Park voted against including fire sprinklers in the new addition on Betsy Ross Elementary School because it was only 5,800 square feet — 1,400 square feet below the requirement for fire sprinklers. The Illinois State Board of Education mandates fire sprinklers in any new school construction or additions that meet or exceed 7,200 square feet in a 30-month period, or when alterations in a 30-month period affect one or more areas of a school building which cumulatively are equal to 50% or more of the building’s square footage.
“While fire alarms and regular fire drills are essential in schools, only fire sprinklers will work to control or extinguish a fire before firefighters arrive, allowing students and faculty to safely escape,” adds Lia. “School boards need to consider how many generations of children will be affected when they choose not to include fire sprinklers.”