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Built to Last: Staples High School Deemed Safe from Fire

Michael Nussbaum ’11
Sports Editor / CC BY 2.0

When a person walks into a building, rarely do they ever check to see if it is fire safe. Fire Inspector for the Westport Fire Department,  Nate Gibbons, explained how Staples High School, in particular,“meets the standards for fire safety.”

Gibbons, who first started work at the Westport Fire Department in 1986 as a volunteer, has soared through the ranks inside the department during his 15 year tenure to become an inspector.

The job requirements for a Fire Inspector entails of three key abilities: understanding the Fire Code, which identifies risk for fires, being able to identify fire causes through studying fire patterns, and understanding the hazardous materials often associated with fires. However, “being practical is the most important factor in fighting or inspecting fire,” Gibbons said, “along with the ability to use knowledge of chemistry and physics.”

Through this, Gibbons became an expert on fire safety. As far as Staples is concerned, the “little things” about the building deem it fire safe.

“Most of the double doors in the hallways can be  magnetically closed and opened upon an emergency,” said Gibbons. “This is safe because although the doors itself may burn up to an hour before collapsing, the closing of doors help compartmentalize the school.”

In doing so, he explained how if a fire started in the cafeteria, the double doors at the exists would keep the fire contained, not effecting students in other areas of the building.

In addition to controlling the fire by isolating it from the rest of the building, “the ventilation systems are able to prevent the spreading of smoke,” explained Gibbons, “That is the most often reason for why fire-related deaths occur… the hazardous materials that are naturally in the school are spread through smoke; since the school is built to prevent the spread of smoke, it therefore becomes a more fire safe environment.”

The two examples stated above are two different types of fire protection; one being passive protection, which deals with the construction of the building, and  the other being active protection, which includes sprinklers and other devices that prevent the spread of smoke or fire.

“In order to have the most safe building possible, there must be a conscious effort to be aware of these methods,” Gibbons said.

Every summer the Westport Fire Department checks each room and facility for fire cautions, a job which can take up to a month and a half. However, student productions during the year might pose problems to previously safe environments.

“The most common obstruction to fire safety is often through the students,” Gibbons said. “As the Staples Players’ productions are in progress, the sets are often piled upon each other, causing a potential threat in the event of an emergency.”

According to Gibbons, the schools most recent renovation and the new design that came with it was “inherently more safe”.

“The old building had more passive ways of fighting fire, and it had more vulnerable points, for example, the rugs,” said Gibbons, “but the new building has much more active protection along with passive, with active ventilation systems, a more efficient alarm system, and modernized sprinklers make it a very safe building.”

However, even with a safe school, there are always potential disasters waiting to happen.

“Regardless of how prepared the school is, there is still  room for disaster to occur,” Gibbons said, “for example in the field house, the curtains that roll down are plastic, and plastic is one of the potentially hazardous materials that if a person inhaled enough of the smoke caused by it, they could die.”

Even though the potential for a disastrous fire is possible, “this building as a whole, from the cafeteria, to the field house, to the classrooms, has been constructed and built to meet the standards for fire safety in the town of Westport,” Gibbons concluded. “This building was carefully reviewed by the Fire Marshals at the Westport Fire Department and therefore, it is deemed safe.”

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