Nightlocks unlocked again

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

The ever-evolving story of the much criticized Nightlocks is not over. 

The State Fire Marshal’s office ordered the recently reinstalled Isle of Wight County schools door barricades — brand-named Nightlocks — to be disabled, citing violation of the Virginia Fire Prevention Code. That order followed an April 10 press release from Isle of Wight County Schools stating the Nightlocks’ were allowed and were being installed.  

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The status of Nightlocks in terms of violating state fire codes, however, could change in coming months, according to Executive Director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs Michael Reilly. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The $64,658 Nightlocks were installed roughly a year ago on 718 interior school doors, and when engaged, they brace doors with a metal barricade that makes them nearly impossible to open. The barricades, however, were ordered removed by fire protection officials by last September. 

The Nightlock removal prompted criticism from the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and others that autumn, and following their removal, the Board brought up the topic repeatedly and even attempted, without success, to restrict schools spending because of their purchase.   

While the barricades haven’t been completely removed from doors, a metal pin component that brackets the doors to the floor have been taken out, according to Reilly and Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton. 

Reilly said that the State Fire Marshal’s office didn’t require complete removal of the Nightlocks, since their noncompliance designation could change within the next year, based on a decision by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. 

In a phone interview on May 16, Reilly said that following the Isle of Wight County schools press release stating the door barricades were approved for reinstallation, State Fire Marshal Brian McGraw and other fire protection officials met with county and school administration about the barricades’ violation of the Virginia Fire Prevention Code.   

“I can’t not enforce the law that’s on the books,” said Reilly.

Particularly, the barricades violate Chapter 10 of the code, which according to Reilly, centers on proper means of egress from a building — evacuation, in other words. 

Three metal components are required for the Nightlocks’ use, said Reilly: a metal panel built into the door, one built into the floor and a metal pin that connects them, barricading the door. While the metal panels remain in place in the schools where the door barricades had been reinstalled at Hardy, Windsor and Carrsville elementary schools, the pins have since been removed and secured in a remote location, said Reilly and Thornton. 

Reilly pointed out that cases of those seeking to harm students in an active shooter situation often have bombing materials that could lead to a spreading fire, noting that the Columbine High School massacre was such a case.  

Removal of the metal pins from the barricades demonstrated proper compliance with the current fire codes, said Reilly, adding that detaching the metal panels would incur expenses that may not be necessary if the barricades become permissible by code standards in coming months. 

A Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development subcommittee dedicated to school safety and security is reviewing door barricades as a safety measure in schools, according to Reilly. He added that the department ratifies building and fire code laws, and could deem Nightlocks acceptable in the next year. 

In November of 2018, the Virginia Building Code Technical Review Board allowed the installation of door barricades in two Augusta County schools, and Reilly said that, while he disagrees with the Board’s decision, that situation differs from Isle of Wight County’s since those two buildings — Cassell and Rivershead elementary schools — were under construction at the time of the barricades’ installation. He added that existing schools in Augusta County would’ve been denied a modification request allowing the door barricades. 

Code modification requests are issued on a case-by-case basis with each situation weighed on its own individual merits, said Reilly. 

“We all have the same interests. Our sole interest is to protect our children,” said Reilly, stressing Isle of Wight County Schools’ and county officials’ immediate compliance with the State Fire Marshal’s requests.  {/mprestriction}