SFMO emphasizes the role fire safety plays in schools

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NASHVILLE -- As the start of the fall school semester approaches, the State Fire Marshal's Office (SFMO) reminds residents that the fire-safe behavior and habits children learn in school help keep them from harm while inside a school's walls and sets the stage for a lifetime of fire safety awareness.

"We want school staff, students and parents to understand the importance of school fire safety planning and inspections for code compliance," said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. "SFMO inspectors work diligently to uphold established school fire codes. Those codes are designed to prevent fire deaths and injuries and, in many cases, are a direct response to a tragedy that occurred in our nation's past."

Fire departments respond to an estimated 58 structure fires in educational facilities each year in Tennessee according to state data. SFMO fire inspectors work closely with school administrators and local fire departments to help ensure that a school's fire safety features are in working order and Tennessee students and staff are trained to evacuate should a fire occur.*

The SFMO shares a school fire safety video resource that gives parents and educators a behind-the-scenes look at an inspection in order to offer insight into why inspections are a vital part of education.

When SFMO fire inspectors visit a school, they check for the presence of important fire safety features. Some of the areas that are examined during the SFMO's inspections include:


Keep exit path widths open at least 48 inches. Exit doors must be easily recognized and shouldn't be hidden with paint or decorations. Fire-rated doors cannot be held open, locked, or chained and must have latches.

For the safety of the school's occupants, unapproved security devices should not be added to classroom doors. Manually operated flush or surface bolts are not permitted. Only one motion is allowed to open the door, such as turning the door handle. There are many products available on the Internet that are not code compliant. These include devices that slide under doors, lock door closer arms, prevent doors from latching, and surface bolts that slide into the floor or wall.


Extension cords should not be used as permanent wiring, so schools should always consider available power sources when planning the classroom configuration. Be sure any power strip is UL-listed as an overload protector, and take care to always use appropriate wattage bulbs in any lamp. Do not leave any lamp, candle or space heater on and unattended.


Fire drills are one of the most important safety measures a school can take and are also recommended for homes. Two fire drills are required within the first 30 full school days and at least one once every 30 school days. Practice makes perfect! This will reduce panic and injuries.

More information on emergency drill requirements can be found here: http://publications.tnsosfiles.com/acts/110/pub/pc0451.pdf


Exit and emergency lights must be in good working order at all times. You can assist your school in reporting any non-functioning exit signs or emergency lights, or those in disrepair, to the appropriate school official. Nothing should obstruct visibility of these signs.


Items should never hang from, or obscure, any fire sprinkler heads. Fire sprinklers should not show signs of corrosion or leakage; and if they do, it should be reported to the appropriate school authority.


Fire codes limit the amount of wall space that can be covered to 20 percent, or 50 percent when the building has fire sprinklers. Fabrics or other flammable materials used as drapes also present fire risks. Such materials may be treated with a spray-on flame retardant. Remember, not all flame retardant applications last forever and must be reapplied periodically.

Questions about school fire safety? Contact the State Fire Marshal's Office at 615-741-6246 or visit us online at www.tn.gov/fire.

*Note: Not all schools are inspected by the State Fire Marshal's Office. Some jurisdictions are overseen by their local fire department. A list of exempt jurisdictions can be viewed here.

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