City intensifies effort to stop school fires

Five students arrested

repeated evacuations, false alarms disruptive

October 08, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

City school officials and police are continuing to crack down on a rash of student-set fires and false fire alarms that have repeatedly disrupted classes in at least three schools.

As of yesterday, five students had been arrested in connection with the fires, school officials said.

Four students were arrested at Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy, where 19 fires have been set since city schools opened Sept. 7.

A 14-year-old boy was arrested after a fire yesterday morning in a health suite at Thurgood Marshall High, causing smoke and water damage. The fire was set before school began, and the culprit was believed to have entered the building through the adjoining Thurgood Marshall Middle School, school officials said.

No one has been arrested in connection with two restroom fires at Forest Park High School on Wednesday.

The city Fire Department's juvenile fire-setter program has been interviewing teenagers at the Northwest Baltimore school to try to figure out why the fires are being set, a Fire Department spokesman said.

No one has been hurt in the fires, but the schools have been repeatedly evacuated, officials said.

School officials have tried to put an end to the disorder by increasing the presence of adults and law enforcement.

Since Monday, about 75 city workers have been serving as hall monitors at Walbrook, and a city firetruck and four-member crew have been assigned to the school full time.

Walbrook has been the scene of the largest number of fires this school year, and during a fire evacuation last week, someone fired a gun in the presence of students.

Staff from the school system's headquarters will be assigned to help monitor Thurgood Marshall and Forest Park this week, and someone from the city fire marshal's office will be stationed at each school, schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said.

In the event that more fires are set, the fire officials will be able to immediately assess the seriousness of a fire. If it is deemed not to be a threat, classes will not be interrupted, Copeland said.

"I'm very hopeful that we are about at the end of this, if not the end," Copeland said. "We're working with those communities, and we very much feel we have a good handle on who the majority of the suspects are."

Thurgood Marshall High also has been disrupted by several false fire alarms this week, school officials said.

And Sept. 29, someone at the Northeast Baltimore school pulled a fire alarm as two girls fought in a hallway. As the building was evacuated, more students became involved in the fight, and school police used pepper spray to break it up.

Albert Thompson, Thurgood Marshall High's principal, was suspended with pay Sept. 30, a day after the brawl. School officials declined to say why he was suspended, saying it was a personnel matter.

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