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NFSA-WI Urges Racine School Board to Include Fire Sprinklers in Renovation of Fire-Ravaged Mitchell Elementary School

On February 27, an overnight fire at Mitchell Elementary School in Racine caused the roof to collapse; now students will be bused to another location indefinitely. According to fire officials, fire sprinklers were present in portions of the building, but not where the fire occurred.

Dan Gengler, retired fire official and regional manager for the nonprofit Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA-WI), says that it is fortunate that the fire had occurred overnight when there were no students in the building. Unfortunately, the lack of fire sprinkler protection in parts of the building did put Racine firefighters in harm’s way.

“Had fire sprinklers been present where the fire began, the fire may have been extinguished or at least under control while firefighters responded, providing a much safer situation,” notes Gengler. “After some minor mop-up and smoke ventilation over the weekend, it’s likely that classes would have been able to resume this week. We are lucky that none of the firefighters were injured.”

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Gengler says that the community will be affected due to the aftermath of the fire for quite some time. It remains to be seen how soon Mitchell Elementary School will be able to recover from the fire, but the school is officially closed for the remainder of the school year and the students have been relocated to Wind Point Elementary School. The change in location has forced school officials to rearrange bus routes and placed an extra burden on parents who drive their children to school.

Meanwhile, students from Mitchell Middle School, which adjoins the elementary school, have classes canceled for approximately two weeks since that portion of the building suffered some smoke and water damage. Donations are being collected to begin replacing the school supplies and educational materials that were lost or damaged in both schools.

“It is the responsibility of the Racine Board of Education to ensure student safety within its schools. That should include providing the best fire protection available to protect students, staff, visitors, and the firefighters who respond to fire calls,” states Gengler, who insists that fire sprinklers should be the top priority in the post-fire renovation.

“Fire sprinklers were installed in some portions of the building away from where the fire occurred. Now is the time to retrofit a complete fire sprinkler system, as it will save money during this stage of renovation. The school board should make sure the entire building is safe, with equal fire protection for all occupants.”

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