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Minnesota gets an A in school fire safety

Feb. 16, 2017

School Inspector John Swanson discusses his inspection results with a staff member at a Twin Cities school.
Photo: School Inspector John Swanson discusses his inspection results with a staff member at a Twin Cities school – one of the reasons Minnesota schools have 47 percent fewer fires per year than the national average.​

When you think of school safety, you likely think of things like bullying prevention and keeping the recess roughhousing and hallway running to a minimum. School fire safety may not occur to you at all – and a reason for that might be that Minnesota schools have 47 percent fewer fires each year than the national average. School fires just don’t happen as much here.

That’s just one of the interesting facts recently included in the Minnesota School Fire Report, released this week by the Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (DPS-SFMD). For example, the DPS-SFMD School Inspection Program began in 1990, and since then, the annual average number has dropped from 90 (1990-1994) to 41 (2010-2014). What’s more, from 2009 to 2013, Minnesota’s school fire loss decreased by just over 70 percent to $3,201. But the national average? In the same time period, it increased by 50 percent to $17,241 per fire.

Much of this progress can be attributed to a 1990 mandate by the Minnesota State Legislature saying that DPS-SFMD must conduct inspections of all public school buildings serving kids from preschool through high school at least once every three years. Over time, the main violations have changed from expensive, complicated fixes (such as lack of fire-rated egress corridors) to easily fixable issues (such as improper use of extension cords), suggesting that our schools are being built safer and that school officials and staff are taking seriously their role in keeping school buildings safe and up to code.

Inspecting schools to make sure they’re fire safe is only one piece of the puzzle, though. The other part is education. By law, Minnesota schools are required to conduct at least five fire drills per school year – so it’s important to talk to children about taking them seriously and making the most of them. For example:

Be familiar with and follow your school’s fire safety and evacuation procedures.

  • Never assume a fire alarm is a false one.

  • Know where to go and who to report to if a fire alarm sounds outside of classroom hours.

  • Make sure you go where you’re supposed to and that the adults know you’re safe after an emergency evacuation.

At-home education is also important. Parents: Talk to your children about the dangers and power of fire. Teach them safe behaviors so they can help keep Minnesota schools at the head of their class.