Almanac

News - May 8, 2013

Facebook gives $20,000 to school fire-safety fund

by Sandy Brundage

On a mission to connect school fire alarms to fire stations, the new nonprofit Ring the Bell Fund collected $20,000 from Facebook on May 1.

The social media company is challenging others to match its donation.

"From the moment we learned about Ring The Bell Fund's mission, we wanted to help," said Tom Wirth, a Menlo-Atherton High School graduate who now serves as Facebook's facilities operations manager and board member of the Ring the Bell Fund. "Their commitment to keep our schools and communities safe aligns with Facebook's interest in being a good neighbor. We also want to encourage other businesses, community partners, and potential donors to help fund this need across the state."

The Ravenswood City School District will be the first to benefit from the donation. Menlo Park Fire Protection District director Virginia Chang Kiraly created the nonprofit late last year in the wake of two fires at local schools (Beechwood School and Belle Haven Elementary) within 13 months. She also studied the issue as foreperson of the 2008-09 San Mateo County civil grand jury.

"Parents all over California assume that our schools are equipped with automatic sprinklers and monitored fire alarms. Many are not and don't have to be legally," Ms. Chang Kiraly said. "There are gaps in the current state legislation that leave our schools vulnerable to fires and other safety issues that could cause a school fire."

As the Almanac reported in September, state law doesn't require monitored fire alarms or sprinklers in portable classrooms like those Beechwood has used since 1986, despite long-standing efforts by both the fire district and former state assemblyman Ted Lempert.

The Beechwood fire burned for hours before a neighbor called it in. The blaze wreaked an estimated $400,000 in damage to the private K-8 school. A monitored alarm that alerted the fire protection district could have had firefighters there within minutes, according to Fire Chief Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

The Ring the Bell Fund launch, held at Facebook's Willow Road headquarters, featured a panel discussion on how to improve school safety and ways the nonprofit could fill the funding gap. Participants included Mr. Lempert, Fire Chief Schapelhouman, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis, and Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Maria De La Vega.

Ms. Chang Kiraly expressed appreciation for community partners, such as Facebook and Alston & Bird, which has provided legal services.

Comments

Posted by Grateful Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 9, 2013 at 7:00 am

We all owe Virginia Chang Kiraly a great debt of gratitude. She has exposed a fire safety vulnerability and rather than just complain about it she has taken swift corrective action. She is the type of person who should be serving in our State Assembly and when the time is right I hope she runs and if we are smart we will vote her in.


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