I-Team: Schools still need fire inspections

It's a safety lapse that put children and adults inside the capital city's schools at risk for years. The I-Team found no record of fire inspections at Providence public schools for more than five years; in some cases, seven, nine or even ten years.

"There isn't a person in here, present or in the past, that deliberately or purposefully neglected schools," said Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.

NBC 10 checked back with Pare, who promised in November that every school would be re-inspected. But records show that so far, that hasn't happened.

"We haven't had a full inspection of schools," Pare said.

It's not the news parents wanted to hear. "I would like for the school to be safe for the kids, you know?" said Mario Otero, a parent at Hope High School.

So why the delay? Since the fall, a dozen Providence firefighters have been certified as Assistant Deputy State Fire Marshals. But they still need in-the-field training before they can inspect schools.

"That's just going to be a work in progress. It's going to be a couple years," Pare said. "But as I said then, the schools are safe."

Full inspections are still needed for 69 public and private schools across the city. But quick visits, known as building surveys, already found dozens of violations at school after school.

Part of the problem is the age of many Providence public schools. For example, Hope High School was built in 1936, before smoke detectors were in use, and long before modern fire safety codes.

At Hope, records obtained by NBC 10 from August 2012 show doors were chained shut, exits blocked by flammable storage, smoke detectors missing from stairwells and the school's fire alarm was out of service.

So what's been done in the months since then? The I-Team went back to Hope to get a better idea.

The chains that locked doors in the gym are gone, and new panic hardware has been installed, making it easier to escape in an emergency. But the wooden doors themselves still aren't up to code.

In the auditorium, there are more changes. Storage that blocked this exit behind the stage has been moved to the side. But we spotted open cans of paint thinner in the same area, which is a fire hazard.

"We're making improvements," Pare said of the situation. "Certainly, not as quick as I want."

In Hope's main office, the fire alarm is back in service, with an up-to-date inspection sticker. But the school's many stairwells remain a problem, because there are still no smoke detectors.

"We pay taxes. They should keep the school safe," Otero, the parent, said.

But in a city strapped for cash, finding funds is a problem. Missing smoke detectors were found in at least six other schools, and fixing that one violation will cost thousands.

An even more expensive problem is fire sprinklers. Most Providence public schools are so old, they don't have any. Retrofitting each school will likely cost millions.

The I-Team asked the mayor's office how the city plans to fix schools, and pay for the repairs. A spokesman released a statement, saying "two schools will get sprinklers this year. As for the rest of the buildings, the city is asking fire officials for more time, to come up with a plan."