How Richmond Schools are tightening nighttime security after Fox Elementary fire

Why emergency radios were not monitored by RPS night of 'catastrophic' fire
Fox Elementary fire drone 03.png
Posted at 2:49 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 14:58:04-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- When firefighters were first called to William Fox Elementary School just before 9:30 p.m. Friday night, security footage video shows crews trying to get inside the building for about twenty minutes. The fire department said they were unable to reach anyone with Richmond Public Schools for help gaining access to the school.

Richmond Public Schools said no one from its night security team was scheduled to monitor the emergency radios between 4-10 p.m. that night.

CBS 6 asked Superintendent Jason Kamras if that's because of a staffing shortage among nighttime security personnel.

“There is a vacancy because one of the individuals in those roles actually got promoted to another role," Kamras responded. He explained there is only one position that needs to be filled among the nighttime security staff currently.

To fill the gap in security Friday evening, RPS said a custodial supervisor was asked to take home the emergency radio for monitoring.

“The radio for emergency purposes was assigned to another individual,” Kamras said. "For reasons that are not completely clear, the radio was not fully monitored during that time, but there was someone assigned to do that work, and we're assessing why it wasn't fully monitored."

Kamras explained the supervisor was expected to monitor emergencies across the entire district for all six hours of the shift.

“If assigned that role, yes, they are expected to monitor it the whole time," Kamras said.

CBS 6 asked Kamras if the personnel filling in was being paid for that time period.

“Yes, they should be paid for whatever tour of duty that they are working," he responded.

Fox Elementary fire drone 02.png
Aerial photos show the devastation a fire caused at Fox Elementary School in Richmond, Va.

Initially, RPS said a custodial manager, separate from the custodial supervisor, was asleep Friday when a text was sent alerting them about a fire alarm at Fox. School board member, Kenya Gibson, said that fact is irrelevant and the district fell short in this situation.

Gibson released a statement reading in part:

“Not only were they off duty, having finished work at 3 o’clock, but the job description for the custodian manager makes no mention of being on call for emergencies. At the end of the day, we were not staffed to handle this issue.”

Moving forward, Kamras said he plans to tighten nighttime security protocols in three main areas.

“Making sure that there is coverage at all times, that the expectations are very clear, and that communication channels are monitored appropriately," he said.

RPS initially said that the communication failures among staff did not impact the outcome of the fire at Fox.

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