Representative Joseph McNamara’s bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all schools across Rhode Island has passed the House and now goes to the Senate. Meanwhile, city and state officials have spoken out on the pros and cons of the measure.
The bill itself was partially spawned by a Cranston woman, Pauline Belal, who pulled her daughter out of Cranston High School East in November because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Although the school has been tested since and officials say they haven’t found there to be dangerous levels again, Belal has kept her daughter out of East in fear of her symptoms returning. Her daughter, Trinity Briceno, was hospitalized due to the poisoning, which Belal said has cost her more than $20,000 already. She is currently suing the city to recoup that money. Belal said Trinity is getting tutoring through the school, but she fears that the tutoring won’t be enough to get her through to graduation.
Representative McNamara said that “parents need to have peace of mind that when they send their children to schools the environment they’re in is safe.”
He said that the carbon monoxide detectors should be placed near boiler rooms, or wherever a hot water tank may be in the school, and near shop classes where automotive classes are going on.
McNamara said that although there is no cost associated with the bill right now, he thought the cost would be minimal considering that carbon monoxide detectors sell for $30. He also said the potential cost in liability for schools (that don’t have detectors) when incidents like Trinity’s occur would be much more significant than the cost to install and maintain the detectors.
Director of Buildings and Grounds for Warwick Schools Steven Gothberg said that Warwick’s school buildings do currently have carbon monoxide detectors located outside of the boiler rooms, which are connected to an alarm system that is monitored 24/7.
He said boiler rooms are “generally” the only place where a CO issue may arise and they are effective there, but if the detectors are going to be placed in multiple places around the school, it may not be worth the cost of putting them in.
Warwick Fire Marshal Mike Matteson said that in order to accomplish this proposal it has to go through fire code, electrical code, and be adopted through Rhode Island’s laws. He also expressed support behind the goal of the bill.
“In terms of effectiveness, this has been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s a great idea, anything we can do to make it safer for students we support.”
He also said that the initial cost of installing CO detectors in schools would be “significant” because they would need to be hardwired with a battery backup and tied into the fire alarm system.
“There would be a significant initial cost behind it,” he said. “But in the long run you have to evaluate the life safety aspect of it.”
He also said it might not be actually implemented for a few years because of the fire safety laws installation must pass. He said until the bill’s specifics are finalized, a lot of things still need to be done.
State Fire Marshal Tim McLaughlin said his concern would be the effectiveness of the detectors in schools if they weren’t monitored properly. He also said that a “$30 dollar CO detector” might not be effective in detecting high levels of carbon monoxide in schools, especially if they weren’t set up near hotspots like a boiler room.
He added that although a cost-benefit analysis needs to be done before this bill should be implemented, he’s “all for school safety.”
McLaughlin also said that CO detectors aren’t required under code right now for school buildings that are already built, but it is policy for new school buildings to have them installed moving forward.
Warwick Superintendent Phil Thornton said in a statement: “Any additions and enhancements to school safety is always welcome. However, the carbon monoxide bill would have to be specific in requirements and compliant with all current fire and building codes. It is not as simple as purchasing an off-the-shelf device.”