Rockland County, NY - Official: Fire Inspector Ignoring Violations in Private Schools
Rockland County, NY - An official with the Department of Education blasted a Town of Ramapo fire inspector for dangerously shoddy work at several local private schools, issuing inspection certificates despite numerous flagrant violations of state fire safety codes.
Carl Thurnau, facilities planning coordinator for the New York State Department of Education, said that fire inspector Adam Peltz’s report of a January 14th inspection of The Rockland Institute for Special Education listed several violations including non-functional exit doors, exposed wiring, uncovered electrical panels and missing exit signs. Despite those failures, Peltz signed off on the inspection form, indicating that no violations had been found, as reported by The Journal News.
A second inspection performed by the state on January 27th discovered the fire hazards, prompting Thurnau to warn the school that it would be closed unless all of the violations were corrected. The school was eventually allowed to stay open.
In a March 14th letter, Thurnau took Peltz to task regarding the inspection at the Rockland Institute for Special Education.
“It is difficult to comprehend how these violations were missed; as noted, exit doors were labeled broken, yet the inspection form certified by you indicates no violations at all,” wrote Thurnau.
Citing a March 3rd conversation with Peltz, Thurnau noted that Peltz defended his decision not to cite the school for broken exit doors, saying that they weren’t required by the state’s fire code while also maintaining that he was insufficiently trained to perform inspections.
Thurnau refuted both statements, saying that that Peltz likely hadn’t taken the time to do a detailed review of the relevant fire codes to determine if those doors were required to be operable and that he had received well over 100 hours of training in order to receive and maintain his certification as a fire inspector.
Thurnau also noted that Peltz found no violations in 19 recent inspections in Ramapo and listed problem areas three other private schools, Green Meadow Waldorf School, Bais Yehuda and an unspecified Bais Yaakov school, while still allowing them to pass inspection.
Given the number of questionable inspections, Thurnau sent a letter to Town of Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence strongly advising him to have annual fire inspections conducted by another party.
“It is imperative that the fire inspections be performed in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations to ensure the safety of students and staff,” wrote Thurnau.
Peltz did not return calls for comment.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski charged that that 26 private schools in Rockland County have failed to file their annual safety reports and with 23 more called into question after having been passed by Peltz, he petitioned the state’s educational commissioner, Mary Ellen Elia to intervene by having all 49 schools inspected by the Rockland County fire coordinator.
This is not the first time that fire safety in Ramapo’s private schools has been called into question.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://goo.gl/mYOZJR), a News 12 report in December 2015 alleged that many yeshiva properties were unsafe and that little was being done to correct those violations.
Fire inspector Ray Guarnuccio acknowledged that many properties in neighboring Spring Valley, home to many private schools, remained behind in their fire safety inspections. Guarnuccio, who works full time and has only one part time employee on staff, blamed a lack of manpower for the problem and said without additional fire inspectors it is impossible to ensure that all properties, including private schools, meet fire safety codes.
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