The why of it

During my days as an engine and truck officer, we did school inspections, multiple times each year. I can remember getting called to the principal’s office, after completing an inspection of a local elementary school, accused of destroying children’s artwork. What had happened was that I had instructed the engine crew to remove laminate-covered artwork from hallway walls and doors. County ordinance had strictly prohibited laminate-covered work from being placed in the mentioned areas.

Hallway wall and door displays are regulated by fire codes and county ordinance. Wall displays are limited to bulletin board size, or 4’ X 8’, with 3-foot breaks. There cannot be any displays that stretch from floor to ceiling. As stated previously, no laminate-covered material can be on hallway walls or on classroom doors. Classroom door displays are only supposed to cover half of the door.

If you are a teacher in a public school, then you may have seen firefighters or fire inspectors enforce these guidelines. I used to try to explain these things during the faculty presentation that we delivered at a faculty meeting before school started. I do not know if these faculty presentations occur anymore. I thought that I would take a moment and try to explain the why of the codes and ordinances. The No. 1 reason for these regulations is student and faculty safety. Picture a school fire. With long runs of combustible materials on walls, the potential exist for fire to spread the length of the entire wall. Add laminated-covered material to the walls and doorways and you have a flammable that has been added, which drips when exposed to heat before burning. The last thing is to have a door or wall that is covered from floor to ceiling, and you have just introduced the scenario of a door or wall covering catching fire and falling down on a person attempting to escape.

School faculty and students do an excellent job of evacuating schools during fire drills. Most schools will never experience a major fire, but that is why fire drills are conducted. If wall or door displays impede the ability of faculty and students from escaping, then this creates the problem that caused the codes and ordinances, in the first place. The only way to get around the restrictions is to apply a fire retardant material to all wall and door displays. Many were unwilling to do this because of cost, and the belief that the fire retardant damages the artwork.

There is a fine line between displaying children’s work and staying within the prescribed guidelines, which seek to protect everyone in the school. The why of it may not change one’s mind about wall or door displays, but I still think it important to put the information out there. Chances are that nothing will go wrong, but that mindset has gotten many people hurt or killed throughout history. The goal must be two-fold; display children’s work, while preventing a larger problem, in the event of a school fire.

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