The Fire Department is working with Westbrook High School officials to remedy code violations involving overdue safety equipment inspections and excessive use of extension cords. Chance Viles / American Journal

All Westbrook schools will be inspected after 38 safety code violations were discovered at the high school in the aftermath of the fire there last month.

The Fire Department has provided the school with a list of the violations of National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code, which the state abides by, and other “housekeeping” safety problems found throughout the school in an immediate inspection after the July 25 fire in a third-floor classroom.

“The (high) school still remains one of the safest places in the city. These aren’t punitive,” Westbrook Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte  said. “Had these things not been caught, they’d progress, and that’s when things can get a little ugly. It’s not unlikely to find a whole host of code violations oconcerns when an inspection is done.”

According to a Fire Department report, the third floor fire started within an air conditioning unit  improperly plugged into an extension cord. Similar fire hazards were found elsewhere in the building. Other violations included overdue inspections of the sprinkler system.

The Fire Department, at the request of the School Board, is working with city code inspectors to check all school buildings in the city. Canal School has already been inspected and was found to be in “great shape,” according to City Code Enforcement Officer David Finocchietti.

“It’s a wake-up call to all of our school buildings to make sure things are done correctly, and some things that might have been done correctly may no longer be correct,” said Superintendent Peter Lancia.  

The Fire Department is working with the school department on a “phased-in” plan to fix the issues at the high school, Turcotte said.

Finocchietti said changing safety codes over the years accounts for some of the problems at the high school.

“The high school is a multigenerational building, part of it in the built ’50s, then updated in the ’80s and ’90s. You get things that were allowed by code then and then as you progress through you transition into more modern code. We were seeing where one code left off and another one started,” Finocchietti said. “Canal is older so we had concerns, but it was looking great.”

The timeline and costs for repairs to the fire-damaged wing and to bring the high school up to code have not been determined.

Many of the updates can be done within a day, Turcotte said, and no single violation presents a major danger. Some work will involve minor adjustments, such as the removal of excess extension cables. Other remedies will take more time and money, such as completing the overdue inspections and servicing the sprinkler system, which also needs operational water alarm bells, tough other alarm systems are working.

“There is nothing on that list that stands out that if this isn’t done, it will impact the school,” Turcotte said. “The school overall has done a good job. It’s an opportunity to identify those gaps.”

The report also calls for an upgraded alarm system that lets the department know where a fire is, rather than just a general alarm for the school overall. It also found that fire extinguishers in some cases were not in their designated locations.

The IT room has “many electrical, storage, housekeeping and egress violations,”  including an excessive number of power strips and extension cords in use. The room needs a master shutoff switch for all of the charging computers, and an added wall in the room that blocks sprinkler coverage must be removed, the report said.

It also says that some electrical boxes along with above-ceiling wiring throughout the school are improperly secured, which Finochietti said is a common code violation in general.

The wing affected by the fire has not yet been inspected for the exact extent of water or smoke damage. Whether those classrooms will be usable when school opens next month will be determined in a week or so, Finnochietti said.

“This is very fluid. A lot of things depend on others like contractors, materials, adjusters,” Turcotte said. “If those don’t align that might go out longer than we would like,” Turcotte said.

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