New Mexico high school goes months without working fire alarm system

KRQE News 13 sounds the alarm on longtime problem

CROWNPOINT, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico high school has a major problem that’s been putting kids at risk. Parents claim school administrators knew about the problem and did nothing for months.

KRQE News 13 has learned Crownpoint High School northeast of Gallup hasn’t had a working fire alarm system in months.

“It’s not acceptable at all,” said Crownpoint resident Michael Benally.

“I was really amazed,” said Mariancita Jim, who has a daughter at Crownpoint High School.

“The parents are owed an explanation. The teachers that are in the classroom are owed an explanation, right? We as taxpayers are owed an explanation,” said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup.

Jim said she’s very concerned for students’ safety as a parent. “My daughter attends and so does my nephew, my nieces, they all attend that school,” she said.

She said she’s known about the problem for months and even tried talking to Crownpoint Principal Curtis Clough about it with no luck.

“This was brought to my attention Tuesday morning, first day on the job,” said Don Shainin, the state’s brand new Fire Marshal. When KRQE News 13 alerted him about the non-working fire alarms in Crownpoint, he sent an inspector right away.

“The system is completely non-working,” Shainin explained. “It’s gonna need to be replaced completely.”

He said school officials told him they suspect a lightning strike last August caused the whole system to go down. Shainin said his office should have been notified of the problem back then.

“Is that acceptable for a school to just not have it work and not do anything about it?” KRQE News 13 asked the State Fire Marshal.

“No it’s not. Like I said I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus but in my opinion, no it’s not acceptable,” Shainin replied.

KRQE News 13 called the school principal who directed us to the superintendent, but he refused an interview saying he’s “here to serve the students, not news agencies,” and hung up the phone.

But how is the school serving students by waiting until now to fix a system meant to keep the kids safe? Parents say they’ve struggled to get answers too.

“At least somebody out there stretched their concern to you guys,” Jim told KRQE News 13. “I hope they do fix it for us and we actually can sleep as parents.”

After the state inspection Wednesday, the school greeted KRQE News 13 with three security guards in the parking lot.

“I’m gonna ask you to get off school campus,” one security guard stated.

An employee said that Gallup McKinley County School Superintendent Mike Hyatt directed all staff not to talk to KRQE News 13.

“I totally understand your point, unfortunately, my boss is saying I can’t talk right now,” a staffer said.

KRQE News 13 went to Gallup to try and talk to the Superintendent in his office, but a secretary claimed there was no one available to talk.

After waiting in the lobby, the secretary said that she was told Mr. Hyatt was now out of the building in Ramah.

“There’s not anyone to speak with you right now but for me to take a message and they’ll get back to you,” she said.

No one from the school has returned that message.

According to records, the last state Fire Marshal inspection at Crownpoint High School was in 2015, and there were problems found then.

Inspection notes from 2015 state the “Fire Alarm panel has 22 trouble codes and the Sprinkler system and Ansul system are not tied into the Alarm panel.”

Shainin said his office should have followed up, but with staff shortages and no State Fire Marshal for more than a year, it just didn’t happen.

“We should’ve gone out and reinspected at that point so I’m saying I take blame for that – our agency takes blame for that,” said Shainin.

The new Fire Marshal vows the system will improve.

“We were talking this morning about a change in policy definitely to make sure that this doesn’t happen again that these don’t fall through the cracks,” Shainin explained.

Crownpoint High is now on notice to get the alarm system working as soon as possible. The school is also under Fire Watch, meaning one person’s job is now to walk the campus during school hours and keep an eye out for trouble.

“The whole purpose of having a fire alarm system is to have an early notification so that you can get your students out safely,” the Fire Marshal explained.

“There’s a life safety definitely, but there’s also a dollar value involved here that fire be put out quicker so that you don’t lose classrooms or even larger structures or the whole school.”

Fixing the system may not be easy and it will likely be expensive, but the community of Crownpoint is counting on it to keep their kids safe.

“We need to get this taken care of,” said Benally.

According to a report, the existing alarm system dates back to 1998. The district did get an estimate last month for a new system, which came back at $34,593.35.

The State Fire Marshal said if the system requires a whole rewiring, it could take weeks to fix.

Shainin said he hopes every public facility will let his office know when they have a problem like this. “We’re not an agency that is going to bring harm to your facility,” he said. “If you know a system is down, give us a call, we’ll help you out in any manner possible.”

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