Rockland County, NY - Report Highlights Fire Safety Inadequacies In Monsey Yeshivos
Rockland County, NY - Private schools in the Monsey and Spring Valley areas are finding themselves in the media spotlight, this time for their less than stellar performance when it comes to fire safety.
55 Rockland County’s yeshivos were visited during the course of a five month long investigative report by News 12 with several bearing state mandated annual fire inspection certificates that were a year or more out of date. According to the report, titled “Playing with Fire,” 75 percent of the schools visited either had not passed an annual fire safety inspection within the last year or refused to show their compliance certificate to the News 12 team. The report charges that little is being done to bring failing schools into compliance.
A visibly disturbed Ray Guarnuccio, Spring Valley’s fire inspector, told News 12 that with only one part time worker to help him, it is nearly impossible to inspect the village’s 1,400 properties each year.
“We are overwhelmed with all that we have to do,” said Guarnaccio, who noted that he feels students’ lives in danger when they go to the failing schools.
“Do you worry for these children?” asked News 12 reporter Tara Rosenblum.
“Every day,” replied Guarnaccio heavily.
Rockland County’s fire coordinator Gordon Wren labeled the non-compliant schools as “ticking time bombs.”
“Should we wait for a big tragedy and then there will be an uproar?” asked Wren. “You want to wait for that and have poor innocent children pay with their lives?”
The News 12 report displayed footage of numerous schools in Monsey, Spring Valley, New Square, Airmont, Suffern, West Nyack, and New City, zeroing in by name on just three yeshivos that were not in compliance with state regulations, including one whose latest fire inspection certificate was dated 2008. While over a dozen schools were found to be up to date on their fire safety inspections, the report showed just one, Ateres Bais Yaakov, located in Airmont.
Rabbi Noah Kalter, head of the pluralistic Rockland Jewish Academy in West Nyack, told News 12 that a lack of information may be to blame for at least some of the schools that are not in compliance and that he himself had no idea that fire safety inspections had to be performed annually. Rabbi Kalter said that once he was made aware of that requirement, he filed the necessary paperwork to bring his school up to code.
“I think a lot of these schools may just not be aware of the things that need to be done to be in order to be considered in compliance,” said Rabbi Kalter. “There doesn’t seem to be any kind of document available where schools can access it off a website to kind of almost as a checklist.”
While the News 12 report raises many valid points about a crucial issue, it also relies heavily on innuendo and suggestion.
Footage displayed during the report shows clips of school buses belonging to Chasidic institutions that are not named as having failed their safety inspections and shots of particular school buildings shown as the narrative discusses failing schools unfairly suggest that those schools failed their inspections without offering any proof.
Queries about one extremely outdated fire safety certificate were made as a staffer was loading children onto a school bus, with the staffer advising News 12 politely that he was not available to talk at that time. The report also makes it clear that of the total number of schools visited, some were found to be in violation of fire safety codes while others simply refused admittance to the News 12 team or declined to show reporters their fire safety certificates.
The exact number of yeshivos in Rockland that are not currently in compliance with the fire safety codes is, in fact, impossible to determine based on this report, which only identifies three such institutions. Rosenblum noted that she visited several Catholic schools in the course of her investigation and all were found to be in compliance with local codes.
Asked by Rosenblum if the failing schools should be shut down, Wren replied without hesitation.
“Absolutely,” said Wren. “Without a doubt. It’s indisputable.”
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