This past Monday, students at Vicente Benavente Middle School in Dededo were evacuated following a fire in the school cafeteria. Principal Dexter Fullo told KUAM News, "Apparently what happened in the cafeteria kitchen is that two light bulbs popped and caused a fire on the roof and on the floor. Fortunately, our AO was next to the scene and extinguished the fire."

Although there were no reported injuries at the BMS fire, the entire school population was evacuated through the help of the fire alarm system. This incident, just one week into the school year, shows the importance of having functional fire alarms at our island schools.

But according to DOE deputy superintendent Chris Anderson, not all DOE schools have working alarms, as he said, "We've done an assessment - we have roughly 17 schools that have inoperable fire alarm systems and our current protocol requires schools that don't have operable fire alarm systems to have a fire watch program in place."

"Each school was instructed to identify a school safety liaison, somebody at the school site, one of their personnel, who has a collateral duty and their responsibility is to ensure hourly checks are being done on the campus, to make sure there's no potential issues with fires," he said.

But is this alternative safe? Absolutely, believes Anderson. "The fire department would not allow us to continue to operate if we didn't have some kind of way to mitigate the emergency fire alarm systems not being operable," he shared.

In the past DOE received stimulus funding to implement fire alarms at all campuses, but due to a lack of maintenance, many are no longer functional. "The challenge was we had one year of warranty work for the installation of those systems but after that fact we didn't have a maintenance contract in place, and so that's the main reason why we're having some of our systems go down," said Anderson.

DOE does have a purchase order in place for limited services, and is working toward a more robust maintenance contract.