State Fire Marshal’s Office: Fire Safety Starts in Schools

Monday, March 06, 2017 | 10:13am

NASHVILLE –The fire-safe behavior and habits Tennessee children learn in school help keep them from harm while inside a school’s walls and sets the stage for a lifetime of fire safety awareness.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) reminds school staff, students and parents of the importance of school fire safety planning and the SFMO’s inspections for code compliance.* The fire codes for schools are designed to prevent fire deaths and injuries and, in many cases, are a direct response to a tragedy that occurred in our nation’s past.

“Fire departments respond to an estimated 58 structure fires in educational facilities each year in Tennessee,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “Our fire inspectors work closely with school administrators and local fire departments to help ensure that a school’s fire safety features are in working order and Tennessee students and staff are trained to evacuate should a fire occur.”

The SFMO recently released a school fire safety video resource that gives parents and educators a behind-the-scenes look at an inspection in order to offer insight into why inspections are a vital part of education.

When SFMO fire inspectors visit a school, they check for the presence of important fire safety features. Some of the areas that are examined during the SFMO’s inspections include:

  • DOORS AND ESCAPE ROUTES – Keep exit path widths open at least 48 inches. Exit doors must be easily recognized and shouldn’t be hidden with paint or decorations. Fire-rated doors cannot be held open, locked, or chained and must have latches.

    For the safety of the school’s occupants, unapproved security devices should not be added to classroom doors. Manually operated flush or surface bolts are not permitted. Only one motion is allowed to open the door, such as turning the door handle. There are many products available on the Internet that are not code compliant. These include devices that slide under doors, lock door closer arms, prevent doors from latching, and surface bolts that slide into the floor or wall.
  • SOURCES OF ELECTRICITY – Extension cords should not be used as permanent wiring, so schools should always consider available power sources when planning the classroom configuration. Be sure any power strip is UL-listed as an overload protector, and take care to always use appropriate wattage bulbs in any lamp. Do not leave any lamp, candle or space heater on and unattended.
    Fire drills are one of the most important safety measures a school can take and are also recommended for homes. Two fire drills are required within the first 30 days of the school year and a once-a-month drill is required during the rest of the school year. Practice makes perfect! This will reduce panic and injuries.

    In addition to the fire drills, at least three safety drills not requiring evacuation must be conducted during the school year. These can be earthquake, tornado, or security drills. It is also important that primary and secondary evacuation routes are identified in emergency operations plans.
    Exit and emergency lights must be in good working order at all times. You can assist your school in reporting any non-functioning exit signs or emergency lights, or those in disrepair, to the appropriate school official. Nothing should obstruct visibility of these signs.
    Items should never hang from, or obscure, any fire sprinkler heads. Fire sprinklers should not show signs of corrosion or leakage; and if they do, it should be reported to the appropriate school authority.
    Fire codes limit the amount of wall space that can be covered to 20 percent, or 50 percent when the building has fire sprinklers. Fabrics or other flammable materials used as drapes also present fire risks. Such materials may be treated with a spray-on flame retardant. Remember, not all flame retardant applications last forever and must be reapplied periodically.

Questions about school fire safety? Contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office at 615-741-6246 or visit us online at

*Note: Not all schools are inspected by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Some jurisdictions are overseen by their local fire department. A list of exempt jurisdictions can be viewed here.