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Facebook challenges others to match school fire safety gift

Ring the Bell Fund launches with $20,000 donation

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 2. 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 within 13 months -- Beechwood School and Belle Haven Elementary. She also studied the issue as foreperson of the 2008-2009 San Mateo County 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 the ones that 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 worth of damage to the private K-8 school's facilities. 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.

"We are so grateful for of our amazing community partners, such as Facebook and Alston & Bird, who has provided valuable legal services to Ring The Bell Fund," said Ms. Chang Kiraly. "We are very excited about these partnerships and thankful for Facebook's generous gift, which we hope will inspire others to give."

The incorporated nonprofit is currently waiting for the Internal Revenue Service to grant tax-exempt status. Go to RingTheBellFund.org for more information.

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