Yesterday, a faulty sensor triggered a fire alarm at Elgin Court Public School. Without knowledge that it was a faulty sensor, the staff and students performed the fire drill as they have practiced before. The building was evacuated quickly and safely and no one re-entered the building until the fire department had gone through the school to confirm that there was no actual fire. With the close proximity of the fire hall, the whole evacuation to all clear was concluded in ten minutes.
On any other day this would pass with little to no notice or debate but due to the cold weather yesterday, parents and passers by were horrified to see children stood in the bitter cold without jackets in the minus 12 temperatures.
School perform a number of fire drills each semester as well as other drills such as lock downs. These drills are usually carried out within the first month or so of the semester and in dry weather. In some schools planned fire drills have been postponed due to rain. It is doubtful that any school in South West Ontario has ever planned for a fire drill in such cold conditions. It was a unique situation and one that was unforeseeable. No one could have predicted a fire alarm on such a cold day. Perhaps schools in Alberta plan for this but here in St. Thomas, they don’t.
Questions have been loudly asked as to why the students were outside without their coats and why their teachers were wearing theirs. Why weren’t the students taken into a nearby building for warmth and why did the teachers not give their jackets to the students.
During a fire drill, everyone practices to leave the building instantly, not stopping to collect personal items such as jackets or bags. Can you imagine the outcry if a student was injured because his or her teacher let them run to their locker or cubby to grab their jacket? The source of the fire alarm is unknown so staff and students had to follow procedure and evacuate the building as quickly as possible. If it was a planned fire drill the staff would have made certain that the students had time to grab their jackets and gloves, or not held the fire drill on such a cold day.
While students travel from room to room for their various classes, staff members often do not move out of their room. This would mean that their jackets would be hanging up in their room. Should the teachers not have put their coats on because the students did not have theirs? It doesn’t make sense for that to happen, the coat is there, it isn’t affecting the time it takes to evacuate the school. Most people would put their jacket on without a second thought.
Once outside though, the teachers were wearing their jackets while the students were not. It has been asked why the teacher didn’t give their jacket to a student although the answer is obvious. Which students should get the jacket and which unfortunately don’t? No matter what students were chosen, the others would still be cold. Imagine a parent whose child wasn’t given the jacket? Not only is that child outside without a jacket but the teacher chose to give their jacket to another child. How unfair is that? No matter what decision the teacher made, it would have been criticized and offended someone. By choosing not to share their jacket, no student felt left out or like a teachers pet.
While waiting for the all clear to be give, the school population stood outside on the sidewalk and other designated areas. Why not take the students to someone place warm while they wait? Couldn’t they have been taken to Shoppers Drug Mart until the all clear was given? Every single class trip is accompanied by at least two adults if not more. There are not enough staff in Elgin Court for each class to have two supervising adults while the class walked to a warm building. What would have been said if a student had been lost while walking to and from a warm building, Shoppers for example, and the fire alarm was discovered to be a faulty sensor? It was unknown how long the fire alarm would last, ten minutes or an hour, and it is pretty obvious that if informed that it would take longer, the administrative staff would have had to have made a decision for the safety of the students. As it was, within ten minutes the students were back into their classrooms, warming up.
This was probably a once in a lifetime situation, a perfect storm if you will, and one that could not have been predicted or planned for. The staff of Elgin Court Public School followed their procedures correctly and while students were cold, they stayed safe. It wasn’t a nice experience for the students, or staff, but it was one that was carried out the right way.
*Writers note: I have two children at Elgin Court who also had to stand outside in the cold.