School door lock controversy continues

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Fire Marshal said notice of violation remains in force

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The Isle of Wight County schools door lock controversy continues to smolder as the state fire marshal says they are illegal and the county building inspector says they are not. 

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State Fire Marshal Brian McGraw maintains that Isle of Wight County Schools’ door locking barricades — called Nightlocks — are still in violation of the fire code, as they were when the first notices of violation was sent back in August.  

“Those notices of violation are still in effect,” said McGraw in a phone interview on April 19, later adding, “I don’t see a situation in which we would be in agreement with approving the use of this type of device.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

McGraw would not say what the original notices stated exactly as a violation, but that it had to do with proper means of evacuation or “egress.”

Isle of Wight County Director of Inspections Art Berkley maintains that the door locks are allowed and cites State Technical Review Board cases to back up his decision. 

While the locks were approved by Berkley several weeks ago and have already been reinstalled at Carrsville, Hardy and Windsor elementary schools, McGraw said that the Fire Marshal’s office is the final authority on the state fire code. 

“There’s a building code and a fire code. Yes, a building official in a locality has authority for enforcement of the building code, but the fire marshal has authority to enforce the fire code,” said McGraw.  

“We were not involved in the decision to reinstall the Nightlocking devices,” said McGraw.

The $64,658 door lock devices were installed last spring in Isle of Wight County Schools, only to be removed at the beginning of the school year in response to a violation issued by the state fire marshal’s office. 

Implemented as part of a $846,944 school security boost following the Parkland, Fla. shooting that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and staff, the Nightlocks are designed to bolster doors as such that opening them from the outside is almost impossible without the proper tool. In this case that tool is a small, keylike device, according to county schools staff.   

McGraw said that the number of deaths resulting from school fires were much higher in the 1950s and 1960s, and that, while he considers school shootings a serious threat, fire death numbers has been brought down by the implementation and enforcement of fire codes.  

McGraw said that the office has no intention of issuing a second notice of violation, but maintained that the original notice was still active. 

“We have another meeting scheduled with county officials on Tuesday,” said McGraw, adding that he hopes for a resolution. 

On whether a resolution can be found with the Nightlocks remaining in schools, McGraw declined to offer a definitive comment, but said, “you probably know the answer.”

“Our issue is, how does anyone approve this?” said McGraw. 

Isle of Wight County Director of Inspections Art Berkley said on April 22 that the State Technical Review Board had reviewed a previous decision on the door barricades on Nov. 16, 2018 and allowed them in Augusta County. 

The 2018 appeal by Augusta County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond to the State Building Code Technical Review Board followed six cited violations issued by the State Fire Marshal’s office at Cassell and Rivershead elementary schools for use of the door barricades. 

Following the citations, the review board overturned them and found the authority to grant allowance of the Nightlocks to belong to that county’s building official, per Virginia Construction Code Sec. 1008.1.9.  

“The state fire marshal is trying to take a stand on something,” said Berkley, adding that he doesn’t think that McGraw will be successful in having the Nightlocks removed.

Berkley also said that the State Technical Review Board had found a similar door locking device — called the Barracuda intruder defense system — to be out of compliance since the devices had not been approved by a county building official. 

The State Building Code Technical Review Board is a governor-appointed board established to rule on disputes arising from application of regulations of the Department of Housing and Community Development.  {/mprestriction}