Since he was a young boy, the director of Eagles Aerie School has looked up to firefighters as heroes. “It’s every boy’s dream to be a fireman,” director Tim Peak said.
But he didn’t expect to actually become one.
This week, which happens to be Fire Prevention Week, Peak became a fire chief of sorts for his charter school, located on a Gilbert county island. A bright-green fire engine purchased for $2,500 from the state surplus is parked outside the school.
Peak and his staff plan to use the 1973 fire engine as a basis for their own volunteer fire department, responsible for protecting about 300 students and staff in the kindergarten through 12th-grade charter school.
The plan was devised to replace Rural/Metro Fire Department, which stopped providing coverage to the school and all county islands in Gilbert on Sept. 30.
The school’s transportation director and bus driver, Steve Laudenslager, will hop into the fire engine — with any teachers who opt to be trained — pull out the hoses, and lead the effort to put out any fires.
The fire engine, which had to be refurbished, holds 1,000 gallons of water.
“We’re kind of our own volunteer fire department,” Peak said.
“It’ll be the administration, any of the teachers interested in doing the training,” he said.
Town officials are critical of the emergency response plan.
“If I were a parent, I would unenroll them from that school,” Mayor Steve Berman said.
He said the setup puts students at risk, when annexation into the town for fire service would ensure trained firefighters come to the rescue instead.
But Peak says his school has never had a fire, and his students exit the school during fire drills in less than a minute.
Southwest Ambulance and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office would still respond to medical or other kinds of emergencies, he said.
School administrators opted against annexation after the town would not ensure them that the buildings would be grandfathered into a new town code, Peak said.
Arizona Charter Board director Kristen Jordison said state law requires that all schools have an approved emergency plan.
But because of the gray nature of the law, State Fire Marshal John Rowlinson said it doesn’t appear that the school is violating any law in its choice of emergency response. However, if a staff member or teacher is injured when putting out a fire, liability could become an issue for the school, he said.
Peak said his team will be trained by an area fire department and will practice multiple drills.
Some parents also are firefighters and can offer assistance, he said. And Laudenslager is in the process of EMT training.
Some parents criticized the town for not offering service to the school, which has students enrolled from Gilbert and neighboring towns and cities.
“It’s a little disheartening in that this is a school and because it sits in a county island, they won’t provide fire service,” said Kaleen Polakoff, who lives in Gilbert with her 11-year-old daughter, who is in sixth grade at the school.
Susan Lucas, a Gilbert mom whose 15-year-old daughter is a sophomore, said she was surprised to hear of the truck this week, but felt sure her child was safe.
“If they can get them out, they would have a safe place to go,” she said, referring to a nearby park.