i-Team: Trouble for School Fire Alarm Systems

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BOSTON (CBS) - As parents, we often take them for granted. We assume fire alarms will work when we need them.

But the I-Team found the fire alarms at your children's schools are not always working the way they should. In fact, the state's largest public school system is spending millions fixing them.

You can hear the deep buzzing sound from across the street.

It is a fire drill at a Boston Public School. The children are well prepared and so is their school on Blue Hill Avenue. It has a state-of-the-art half-a-million-dollar fire alarm system.

But the I-Team was shown a collection of wires and switches at another busy Boston elementary school not far away that was also a fire alarm system. That fire protection system is beyond out of date. It was installed in 1904.

Rick Deraney is in charge of fire safety for the Boston Public Schools. He says the ancient bell alarm system at the Mather School still works. "We maintain it all the time," he says.

But there are plenty of Boston Public School alarm systems having trouble these days. The I-Team examined two years of fire inspection reports for the city's 126 public schools. We found more than 25-percent of the schools have routine trouble with their building's main fire alarm panel, and in 10-percent of the public schools, trouble showed up inspection after inspection year after year.

"It is not that the system is not working," says Rick Deraney. "They work. It means there was some trouble just like the check engine light in your car. The car is still working. You just have to go out and maintain it."

Lee DeVito is a fire safety expert from the North Shore. He says the trouble could mean anything.

DeVito says Boston officials are spending millions upgrading the public school fire alarms systems. But he says those "trouble indicators" are a message. "Well it is time to starting replacing it," he says.

And since last summer ten more alarm systems in the city's public schools were slated for replacement or upgrade at a cost of more than $5 million.

Bart Shea is the Fire Marshal for the city of Boston. He says the schools are safe.

"A trouble indicator does not set off all kinds of bells and whistles. Yes, I need a reason for it and I need them to repair it. And as long as it gets repaired, I don't think you need to replace the entire system."

Meanwhile, that old bell alarm system at the Mather School is not unique. But that type of system is so old it made our expert laugh.

"It is not the best thing to do but it is o.k.," says DeVito.

In fact there are four more schools in Boston which still have the outdated bell system. They are all slated for replacement.

Since 1997, 75 new alarm systems have been installed in the Boston Public Schools at a cost of about $30 million.

Story provided by:  boston.cbslocal.com