The director of facilities for Bend-La Pine Schools reassured the school board Tuesday that fire code violations at Summit High School were being addressed and a private contractor had been hired to investigate the faulty fire alarms, although he had not yet found one to investigate the broken fire/smoke dampers.
“We believe students and staff are safe from fire and smoke exposure,” Mike Tiller, director of facilities, told the board.
However, the two district maintenance employees who reported the violations to the school district and The Bulletin, Bruce Card and Adam Seile, called Tiller’s assertions that he took their complaints seriously “lies.” They said he was just trying to make the district look good.
“They started to come up with somewhat of a plan after the first article,” Card said after Tiller spoke to the board Tuesday night. “Most of this, in my opinion, is a reaction to it going public.”
Earlier this month, Card, a maintenance electrician, and Seile, a building controls technician who works with HVAC systems in the district, described multiple fire safety problems to The Bulletin.
They said multiple fire code violations at Summit High — including permanently propped-open fire/smoke dampers and muffled or covered-up fire alarms — could “potentially” put Summit’s students in danger.
Card also said earlier this month that devices such as fire alarms were never tested or inspected prior to this year and that he was pulled off an inspection of Sky View Middle School and told not to complete inspections of the district’s other schools after telling his supervisors about the fire code violations.
In response, Tiller and Maintenance Supervisor Dan Dummitt disputed Card’s claim that he had been pulled off any inspections, and told The Bulletin that a district foreman had inspected “100 percent” of Summit’s fire systems “multiple times” before Card was hired last year. They also said the district recently hired a contractor from Performance Systems Integration for roughly $50,000 and are currently testing alarms and dampers at Sky View and Three Rivers K-8 School.
The district will inspect other schools, including the district’s other high schools, High Desert Middle School and Juniper Elementary School, in December and early January, and La Pine’s four schools in March, they said. The district had also ordered parts to address the fire/smoke damper and fire alarm issues.
At the meeting Tuesday, Tiller answered questions from the board about how fire/smoke dampers work and why they might have been opened. He said he had “no idea” why workers would permanently open the dampers.
Although Tiller did mention the contractor who would look at the fire alarm systems, he admitted that the district has been unable to find a local contractor to test the fire/smoke dampers and that the district is still looking.
After Tiller spoke to the school board Tuesday, Card and Seile said they hadn’t heard of the district doing any fire system testing later this year, and as far as they knew, the district was only replacing a few parts.
Despite saying that hiring a contractor was “moving in the right direction,” Card still wasn’t pleased with the district’s reaction to his report. He didn’t think the district understood the seriousness of the situation, he said.
“I think what they’re doing with the contracting is purely to try to appease the claim that we have,” he said. “It’s halfhearted.”
Francee Rieghtley, who said her son had graduated from Summit, was concerned about Summit’s fire code violations, calling the situation “very upsetting.”
“I’m deeply concerned that this could go on, and the buck could get passed from person to person to person, and the person in charge did not see to it to alleviate the problem,” she said before the meeting.
According to Bend-La Pine Schools spokeswoman Julianne Repman, the district had not received any phone calls or emails about the fire code violations, although Summit’s principal, Michael McDonald, did get a concerned email.
The only public comment regarding the fire code violations came from Card and Seile’s lawyer, Alison Emerson, who called the district’s fire inspections “woefully insufficient.”
Board vice-chair Carrie Douglass told Emerson, “We do take student and staff safety very seriously, and we will consider your testimony.”
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