“For years, Rockland fire volunteers concerned about questionable fire safety in private schools found themselves thwarted by lax local code enforcement and toothless state oversight. So they joined with state legislators to fix a faulty system.
This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that mandates that all New York schools — public or private — undergo regular fire inspections and use qualified inspectors to perform them.
If schools don’t comply, the state Education Department will now have the power to order inspections. And inspectors who do a shoddy job can lose their certification.
The bill,first introduced in 2017, was sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and state Sen. David Carlucci.
“After years of working with state and local fire officials, we have finally updated the arcane regulations that were in place,” said Zebrowski, D-New City.
Rabbi Justin Schwartz, chairman of the all-volunteer Rockland Illegal Housing and Non-Public School Task Force, lauded the law that “finally puts some teeth into enforcement.”
Volunteer fire departments, especially in the greater Ramapo area, had complained for years about fire safety at small yeshivas that popped up seemingly overnight, often carved out of converted houses.
The issue flared in 2016 when it was revealed that a Ramapo town fire inspector had signed off on shoddy inspections.
The county then sought and received permission from then-Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to send inspectors to schools that lacked up-to-date fire and safety code inspections. At some local yeshivas, firefighters were greeted by administrators who denied entry, saying the county couldn’t conduct inspections without their permission.
Schwartz said it’s important that the schools can no longer use “a janitor or other untrained person” to do inspections. A school can use a fire department or county official to complete the inspection.”
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