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Serious Fire-Code Violations Found in N.Y.C., D.C.

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Schools in New York City and the District of Columbia are seriously deficient in meeting local fire codes, two recent reports assert.

The reports, coming in the wake of a fire at an unlicensed social club in the Bronx that took 87 lives last month, take both systems to task for failing to correct potentially dangerous conditions in the schools.

In New York, an audit released by the state comptroller's office last month found that all 44 of the randomly selected schools inspected in 1989 "fell seriously below par with respect to compliance with fire and safety rules."

In Washington, a report released this month by Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, a local advocacy group, said that fire officials found approximately 4,300 fire-code violations during inspections of 94 schools in 1989--an average of more than 45 violations per school.

School officials in both cities said they could not recall any school fire in recent years in which a student had been harmed.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that between 1983 and 1988 there were an average of nearly 10,000 fires a year in educational buildings, including precollegiate and college facilities. These fires resulted in an average of three deaths and 200 injuries a year, according to the association.

Observers said it is likely that the conditions found in New York and Washington schools are not atypical.

It is common to find fire-code violations "in many public buildings, not just schools," said Edward Wall, the deputy administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration.

Repairs Not Made

In both cities, the reports found, common violations in schools included blocked or nonexistent emergency exits, empty fire extinguishers, and faulty or exposed electrical wiring.

Both reports also concluded that the districts are not performing necessary repairs to make their buildings safer, and that local fire departments are not taking an aggressive role in promoting school-building safety.

"Results were so consistent in the 18 areas of compliance we examined in our large school sample, as to leave little doubt that unacceptable fire and safety conditions would be found in all of the city's 1,000 school buildings," the New York audit said.

In a statement in response to the report, Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez said he was creating a task force that would review fire codes and ensure that repairs were made.

"I want to assure all parents that in no school in our city do conditions even remotely resemble the conditions that existed in the Bronx social club," Mr. Fernandez said.

The Washington report said that "hundreds" of fire doors at schools are chained, bolted, or padlocked, which is against the city's fire code. Urban educators in many districts have taken the same action, arguing that the threat of an intruder is far more likely than a fire.

"Our schools are safe, and we have continuous efforts in place to upgrade the level of safety in all our facilities," said Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins in response to the report.--ef

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