Oahu school lacks working fire alarm system, and it isn’t the only one

An Oahu school has been without a fire alarm system for years.

A viewer reached out to us about the issue at King Intermediate School in Kaneohe, concerned that the campus hasn’t had a working fire alarm system for seven years.

“I think that’s kind of ludicrous. They should have a fire alarm,” said Keoki Lovell, whose granddaughter attends the school. “If something happens, whether it’s a fire or storm or something, do they have any direction to go to, to meet?”

The Department of Education admits it’s true, and says the reason is complex.

The issue boils down to a lack of options for the state when choosing vendors for the school’s fire alarm systems.

“It’s in the process of being fixed. We’ve had a number of issues with the vendor,” said DOE director of communications Donalyn Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz says the fire alarm systems used in the schools are complex and hard to maintain. There are only two local vendors that can do the job.

Earlier this year, the school tried to install a new fire alarm system, but that backfired.

“It malfunctioned,” Dela Cruz said. “We didn’t like the work being done. We are now working with another vendor to try and get it done. It’s been a frustrating process not to get something like this complete and in a quick amount of time. Also, it’s not a perfect system, so we want to make sure we have backups in place.”

While the department works on those issues, it tells us it has other safety measures in place: a fire watch system, monthly fire drills, and annual Honolulu Fire Department inspections.

With a fire watch system, faculty can use things like whistles to alert the school in the event of a fire.

“You could make it the comparison of a fire safety officer on campus at all times. Part of that job falls to the vice principal,” Dela Cruz said.

There are 16 other schools statewide on a backlog list, requiring maintenance on their fire alarm systems. View the full list here.

The cost for the fire alarm system maintenance exceeds $3.5 million. The DOE says it’s currently exploring other types of fire alarm systems.

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