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SAFD pressuring local school district to make changes

The state of Texas requires that all school districts have annual inspections of both fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems.

While most school districts hire a 3rd party to handle inspections, the North East Independent School District does their own in-house inspections.

"We've been doing our own inspections with our own technicians for 40 plus years and we've been doing it pretty successfully," said NEISD Executive Director of Communications, Aubrey Chancellor.

She also explained the district saves hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by inspecting their own facilities.

Despite this, SAFD Fire Chief Carl Wedige said the district is falling short of expectations.

"About a year ago we met with them and really kind of laid out the guidelines by which they would have to perform in order for us to allow them to continue to do that," Wedige said.

News 4 requested all fire code violations over the last 2 years for the 3 largest districts in the city.

The first was a list of red and yellow tag violations found in the state required inspections.

There were dozens listed for both the Northside Independent School District and the San Antonio Independent School District, but only 2 listed for NEISD.

The second list of fire code violations, which came from the SAFD city inspector, looked much different.

"There were a total of 210 failed inspections and the district with the largest stack of violations was NEISD.

The range of violations included, "portables not being in compliance", an "impaired fire pump", and a "school inspection failed due to a sprinkler not being maintained according to code."

In response to News 4's questions about whether NEISD was falling short on inspections or on reporting their findings, Wedige said, "I'm not sure if we've made a determination either way."

He followed up explaining, "What we've determined is what is going on right now does not work."

Chancellor said for years the district would find a violation and immediately repair it.

"On the bottom of the yellow tag it says that those need to be reported within 5 days in writing," Chancellor said. "For 38 years we fixed it immediately so we didn't report that as a yellow tag violation because in our estimation, it wasn't a yellow tag any longer."

She added, until last year, the inspector never had an issue with how the district was handling inspections.

"This latest inspector interprets it a little bit differently and since he has let us know how he wants us to handle it moving forward, that's exactly what we've done," Chancellor said.

While NEISD's in-house inspectors are licensed to inspect fire alarm systems, they are not licensed for sprinkler systems.

"A few years ago we had an agreement with the San Antonio Fire Department that we would work toward getting them their license and that's what we're doing," Chancellor said.

She also explained the city fire inspector spends more time in NEISD facilities because they self-inspect and also that they are scrutinized more.

A fire department spokesman confirmed they have been watching NEISD facilities closer since the meeting last year about reporting deficiencies.

NEISD has already begun having 3rd party inspectors handle their 5 year sprinkler system inspections, but have yet to commit to paying an outside firm to conduct all of their annual inspections.

"There's a lot of research that has to be done prior to that but it's my understanding that we need to report back to the fire department in the next 2 months to say, yes we're doing it or no we're not going to," Chancellor explained.

Ultimately, the fire department deputy chief said they can pull the plug on in-house inspections at NEISD, but he's hoping it's a decision that will be made jointly with the district.

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