Guam - It was recently when education suruhanu Dominic Terlaje sent a letter to Fire Chief Dave Peredo about his concerns over the Department of Education's lack of properly serviced fire extinguishers at both P.C. Lujan Elementary School and J.Q. San Miguel. The lack of fire extinguishers is one of several issues plaguing the island's public schools.

DOE's safety administrator, Bruce Williams, scanned the letter sent by Terlaje to Chief Peredo last Thursday, which cites his concern over a lack of properly serviced and operable fire extinguishers at Guam's public schools.  "Fire extinguishers are really more dangerous than useful but it's a fire code you must have them so I'd rather have my people in doubt get out. Ok? So this thing about the fire extinguishers yes we are in the process of getting an annual inspection, which is a visual inspection to say yes, this is in good working order," he said.

In an e-mail to KUAM News, Guam Fire Department Spokesperson Joey San Nicolas said that the fire chief is currently drafting a formal response to the suruhanu's letter of concern and that the department has been in continuous dialogue with DOE about the issue.

San Nicolas said, "This is a major issue that affects the life safety of our children as well as the DOE employees that work at these sights.  A couple of fires at southern high and Simon Sanchez were kept from causing death or major damage because they had proper extinguishers and either fire watch or smoke alarms in place.  We will get in contact with Mr. Williams and address this matter."

In the meantime, Williams maintains that parents should not be alarmed.  "It doesn't mean the fire extinguishers sitting in the schools now that haven't been inspected are not working, it doesn't mean they aren't working, it means they have not been inspected and the tag updated," he said.

When probed further by KUAM about the reason for the delay in inspections, Williams cited a lack of funding, saying, "Some of them have to be replaced. We are in the process of doing that. Show me the money. It's a money issue."

After a slew of financial problems at DOE over an RFP that was awarded and put out last year then protested and cancelled which would have paid for a vendor to check and verify the fire extinguishers, Williams added that DOE is currently waiting for the contract go out to bid one more time. In the meantime, he says that the fire extinguishers are not the only safety concern when it comes to detection of the fire.

"They are not working, only new schools have working fire alarm systems.  And the problem is money? Money, it's always money," he said.

Until DOE can find the funds for a permanent solution, San Nicolas says DOE was instructed to put in place a fire watch system which consists of adults either school aids or teacher strategically located at various parts of each campus who would maintain watch as long as students are in the building.