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Voters Choose Sprinklers After Oconto School Fire; Other Communities Must Follow

Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlnarik and Oconto Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Malczewski

Following an April 2014 fire that caused over $5 million in damage at the unsprinklered Oconto High School building, Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlnarik worked closely with Oconto Unified School District officials to educate them about the importance of installing fire sprinklers in its three aging buildings.

Together, Chief Mlnarik and the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA-WI) provided Superintendent Aaron Malczewski, the school board and a community advisory team with national school fire research from the National Fire Protection Association and other information to make sure voters could make an informed decision. Malczewski even posted a video on the school district website to break down the costs for residents.

Thanks to Chief Mlnarik and Malczewski’s fire sprinkler education efforts made by the administration leading up to the November election ballot, residents voted “yes” to install fire sprinklers in Oconto schools and bring them up to today’s national fire safety standards.

“Of course, we hope there is never another fire in our schools, but now we will have fire sprinklers to provide protection and peace of mind,” notes Malczewski.

NFSA-WI Regional Manager Dan Gengler hopes that other school districts in Wisconsin that have unsprinklered schools will follow with similar referendums.

“This has been a terrible year for school fires. We’ve seen fires cause tens of millions of dollars in damage and restoration costs at unsprinklered schools such as Oconto High School, Preble High School (Green Bay), Mitchell Elementary School (Racine), and the sole school in Prentice,” says Gengler.

Gengler says school districts must proactively install fire sprinklers before fires occur to prevent injuries, deaths and property damage. Unsprinklered schools that suffer fires often get hit with costly fire restoration bills that are burdensome on school districts and taxpayers, while also causing disruption to school schedules.

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