Faulty alarm puts chill in students Children are evacuated on day they wore shorts

March 21, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The first day of spring proved chilly for the more than 1,200 Westminster West Middle School students who had to evacuate classrooms when a faulty fire alarm sounded at 10: 40 a.m. yesterday.

Despite a forecast for rain, snow showers and temperatures in the 30s, many students had chosen to wear shorts to school to celebrate the end of winter, said Principal Harry Lambert.

"[Wednesday] was the first day our students were permitted to begin wearing shorts to school, and many took advantage of our policy," he said. "It was not a nice day to be forced outdoors, even if it was only for 15 minutes."

Construction of the school's new gymnasium and media center recently has required frequent testing of the fire alarm system, Mr. Lambert said. Yesterday's incident created some confusion because teachers and students were uncertain if another test of the fire bells was under way.

An electrical power failure apparently tripped the fire alarms and, while the power returned in a few seconds, the telephone and public-address system in the school were not operating. "That meant we could not call the fire department or the automatic alarm company to tell them what was happening," Mr. Lambert said.

Normally, the principal said, school officials can turn off the alarm system, if necessary, but the "instant-off" switch apparently had been disconnected by construction workers.

"Our administrative staff quickly went through the halls to make sure the students and faculty were leaving the building," he said.

Their exit was orderly and rapid, he said.

By then, volunteers from the Westminster Fire Department had arrived and determined the alarm system was malfunctioning.

Mr. Lambert said firefighters also had rushed to the school Tuesday evening because construction workers were testing the alarm system and had not warned fire officials or the alarm company, Mr. Lambert said.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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