A teacher had to “batter down” a fire escape door yards from where a major fire broke out in a secondary school in the Scottish Borders earlier this month, to save her pupils’ lives a parent has said.
The parent, whose child attends Peebles High School, also said some fire doors in the main school building which had recently been put on a new system keeping them centrally locked unless a fire alarm went off, did not open for several minutes.
The parent, who does not want to be named, said the fire, which started around 1pm on Thursday 28 November, was close to becoming a tragedy and that such locking fire doors could be in other schools across Scotland.
Scottish Borders Councils said it is examining questionnaires about the fire issued to teachers on 3 December.
The parent claims other failings included Senior 1 pupils in the new PE block having to wait for a teacher to get a code to be input to open fire escapes and that the fire escape in the old PE block (directly next to where the fire broke out) could not be opened.
The parent also said the area pupils were moved to – the astroturf behind the new gym block– was essentially a very large cage with a single entrance/exit.
"This could have had a horribly tragic outcome due to the fire escape situation, and we want to know it is being acknowledged and, most importantly, that it won't happen again here or elsewhere." - Peebles High parent
She said: “I want to say the teachers and fire department have been absolutely amazing in their responses, both on the day and over the last week in how quickly they have put things together to help the children. But I think there needs to be a wider acknowledgement of the things that went wrong on the day. This could have had a horribly tragic outcome due to the fire escape situation, and we want to know it is being acknowledged and, most importantly, that it won’t happen again here or elsewhere. In particular, these same kinds of locking fire doors are likely in place in other schools and should be reviewed and checked.
“If the fire had spread further there would have been difficulty in getting them out. As it was they were kept in clouds of smoke for two hours in freezing temperatures.”
Another parent claimed the school was operating a “lockdown” policy prior to the fire resulting in pupils and teachers being unable to get out of the building quickly and had to “funnel” through a door leaving children screaming and terrified.
Meanwhile a senior pupil who was in the school when the fire was taking hold ,said: “During the fire a minimum of three doors didn’t open. There could have been more. One of those doors had to be kicked open, another opened suddenly (which let out the mass of black smoke at once), and the third didn’t open at all. The third was only down the corridor from the fire. Students who tried to escape through that door had to go down a corridor taking them directly towards the fire.
"A staff meeting was held on Tuesday 3 December, with all staff asked to complete individual questionnaires." - Scottish Borders Council spokesman.
A spokesman for Scottish Borders Council said: “We have had no reports of concerns from any parents about the evacuation during the fire at Peebles High School. All pupils and staff were safely evacuated.
“We are undertaking a full debrief process into all aspects of the incident. A staff meeting was held on Tuesday 3 December, with all staff asked to complete individual questionnaires.
“These questionnaires are being analysed and until this is completed it would not be appropriate to comment further on individual details.”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: “The fire at Peebles High School was clearly a very serious incident, and it is appropriate an investigation is now taking place into that incident.
“Protecting the health and safety of pupils and staff must always be of paramount importance, so policies and procedures should be frequently reviewed to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn and to work.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said: “Whilst the joint police and fire investigation is ongoing, the SFRS cannot comment further on matters relating to fire safety measures in place at Peebles High School.”
The school will be closed until at least the new year. Senior pupils are attending Galashiels Academy while younger pupils are at different locations across Peebles. All pre-Christmas prelim exams have been postponed until the new year.