We have learned again never to underestimate the power of human imagination. The Bend schools and the state fire marshal’s office are capable of remarkable creativity.

It took something very special for the Bend-La Pine school district to send out a notice to its employees about its fire safety equipment, saying “some systems may have been found to be impaired.”

What a sly dodge of reality! In fact, smoke dampers were disabled and alarms were muffled and blocked. But there was not a peep about that.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is no less creatively gifted. Kevin Sullivan, deputy state fire marshal, notified the district in December about fire code violations. He yanked its ability to perform its own inspections. He demanded corrective action. And he required the district to notify its staff that “fire protection systems may be impaired in some schools.”

We were dying to better understand the creative process in translating disabling of fire safety systems into “may be impaired.” Earlier this week, we asked him.

He wrote us back in detail. “My correspondence to the Bend-La Pine School District applied to all District facilities, and thus, there may be facilities which do not have impairments, or may have had impairments that were corrected prior to my letter,” he wrote.

Ah, we think we get it how it works. So it would be like saying in state fire code: “Fire protection systems may be required to work properly.” There may be facilities that do not have impairments or that nobody inspects. Do we have the knack of it?

We also were curious why Sullivan did not require the district to notify parents about the district’s failure to properly maintain fire safety systems. He wrote: “The role and responsibility of the fire marshal is to make direct notification to a building owner or responsible agent.” That is part of the Oregon fire code, he said. “It falls outside the role and responsibility of the fire marshal to provide direction to the Bend-La Pine School District concerning communication with parents, guardians or other stakeholders,” he continued.

Of course, though, Sullivan didn’t just stop at informing the building owner. He went beyond that. He required the district to notify its staff — and then stopped short of requiring notification of parents. “I required the Bend-La Pine School District to notify staff of any possible impairment because they are the primary occupants within these facilities, and because they are directly responsible for the care of children during school hours in the event of a fire or other emergency,” he wrote. We admit we lack the creativity to think of schoolchildren as secondary occupants of schools.

At least, we have the edge on Williams in one area. He hopes to create a culture of safety so that fire prevention is an “institutional value” and a “collective responsibility.” We can think of no better way to do that in schools then to motivate parents to put pressure on the school board when the district messes up fire safety.

You don’t have to get creative. Just tell parents the plain-spoken truth and they will act.

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