Skip to main content

Fire Safety

Common Fire Code Violations in Schools

Fire Evacuation and Fire Watch Information

Heat-Producing Appliances in School Buildings

Hand Sanitizer

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Fire Safety Requirements for Summer School Programs

Daily Fire Safety Inspection

Open Fires, Flames (Bonfires, Grilling) 


Fire Drill


Common Fire Code Violations in Schools

^ Back to Top


Fire Evacuation and Fire Watch Information

Fire Evacuation Drill Requirements - New Requirements Starting FY2018

For schools that are fully protected by automatic fire sprinklers, five fire evacuation drills are required during the school year, two of which must be conducted during the first four months of school.  For schools that are not fully protected by automatic fire sprinklers, eight fire evacuation drills are required, with at least three during the first four months of school.  Fire drills are not required for non-school facilities. 

The following schools are not fully sprinklered and are required to conduct eight fire evacuation drills annually:

  • Cedar Grove ES
  • Damascus ES
  • Darnestown ES
  • Emory Grove Center
  • Fallsmead ES
  • Col. E. Brooke Lee MS
  • Maryvale ES
  • Monocacy ES
  • Poolesville HS
  • Carl Sandburg Learning Center
  • Summit Hall ES
  • Tilden MS
  • Twinbrook ES

The Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Office does not allow emergency lockdown drills or directed evacuation drills to count as fire evacuation drills.  The fire marshal recommends that fire evacuation drills take place at varying times of the school day; e.g., different class periods, during recess, or during lunch periods.  Required fire drills must be conducted while school is in session.

Schools must maintain a log of completed fire evacuation drills to meet fire code regulations.  The fire evacuation drill log must be maintained in the main office in the Fire Code Compliancy Binder (see MCPS Regulation EBA-RA, Fire Safety).  Fire marshal staff review the log when conducting fire code compliance inspections.  Division of Maintenance and Operations supervisors and Department of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management cluster security coordinators also check these logs periodically to ensure compliance.  Schools should contact their cluster security coordinator if they have questions about fire drill requirements. 


 Unscheduled Fire Alarms

Without exception or delay, all unscheduled activations of fire alarm systems in schools/facilities must be reported immediately to the PSCC.  Dial 911 and evacuate the building.  If it is determined that a false alarm has occurred and the fire apparatus has not yet arrived, call 911 to report the false alarm.  PSCC personnel will determine if the alarm may be cancelled and if the building may be reoccupied prior to the arrival of fire personnel.  Only the fire department has the authority to allow a building to be reoccupied once a fire alarm has been activated.  Only by authority of the fire department may an unscheduled activated alarm be reset or silenced.

It is a violation of the Montgomery County Fire Safety Code, Section 22-75, to fail to call 911 and evacuate the building when a fire alarm is activated.  Failure to follow the fire safety code can, and has, resulted in the issuance of a $1,000 civil citation to the administrator of the school/building.


Fire Watch Information

A fire watch is started when a building’s fire alarm system is malfunctioning or is not functioning at all.  When establishing a fire watch, schools must notify the following personnel:

  • The school's associate superintendent or director
  • The school's maintenance and operations service center
  • Montgomery County Emergency Communications Center (MCECC) at 240-683-6520
  • Office of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management at 240-740-3066
  • Interagency Coordinating Board at 240-777-2725 (call only when it is anticipated that a community-use activity will be taking place in the building during the fire watch)

An administrator must assign staff members to the fire watch team.  The number of staff members assigned to the team is based on the size of the building, activities that are taking place in the building, and any specific circumstances regarding the fire alarm system.  The average elementary school requires three to four staff members, middle school requires four to six staff members, and high school requires six to eight staff members.  This number should be increased to facilitate notification if an evacuation is necessary and the public address (PA) system is not functioning.  If a sufficient number of staff members is not available for the fire watch team or if you anticipate that the fire alarm system will be out of service for four or more hours, call the Division of Maintenance and Operations at 240-314-1075 so that arrangements can be made to send additional personnel for the fire watch team.

Each fire watch team member should be assigned a two-way radio for communication purposes.  Also, if a fire watch is established for after-school/work activities, the administrator should ensure that all fire watch team members have access to a phone in the event that they need to call 911 to report a fire emergency.

Staff, students, and other building occupants must be informed that a fire watch is in place until further notice (an announcement over the PA system).  Members of the fire watch team must continuously walk interior hallways and around the exterior of the relocatable classrooms. Team members should observe the following guidelines:

  • While walking, fire watch team members must check for smoke and fire.
  • If smoke and/or fire are observed, immediately contact the main office via two-way radio so an announcement can be made to evacuate the building immediately.  An administrator/designee must call 911 in the event of an evacuation.
  • Team members must call in a report to the main office every 30 minutes and upon completing their walks.  The reports must be recorded on a fire watch log (see link below).
  • During a fire watch, members of the fire watch team must be used only for fire watch purposes.  Fire watch team members’ regular duties should be suspended temporarily or assigned to other staff for the duration of the fire watch.

In the event that community-use activities will take place in the building during a fire watch, the Interagency Coordinating Board for the Community Use of Public Facilities (CUPF) office will be responsible for:

  • Working with the Division of Maintenance and Operations to designate the fire watch team,
  • moving the community-use activity to a nearby facility, or
  • canceling the activity for the duration of the fire watch.

The Montgomery County Fire Marshal may modify the parameters of the fire watch depending on the circumstances.  Also, Montgomery County fire code regulations require that a fire watch log be completed and maintained during a fire watch.  It is recommended that the log be kept in the main office and that the administrator designates an office staff member to maintain the log.  Fire watch team members should call into the school’s main office via two-way radio to give their reports every 30 minutes, and the reports must be recorded on the log as soon as received, noting the area checked, time checked, and the name of the fire watch team member who is giving the report.

Questions may be directed to Peter Park, Team Leader, Systemwide Safety Programs, Office of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management, at 240-740-7752 or via e-mail.

^ Back to Top


Heat-Producing Appliances in School Buildings

Unrestricted use of heat-producing appliances in classrooms and instructional and/or support rooms is prohibited within all schools.  Restrictions on appliance use reduce the risk of injuries and property damage.  Heat-producing appliances include the following:

  • Microwave ovens
  • Toaster ovens or toasters
  • Coffee machines
  • Hot plates, portable cooktops, and portable stoves
  • Popcorn poppers
  • Electric, charcoal, or gas grills and smokers
  • Space heaters
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Refrigerators

MCPS limits the use of heat-producing appliances in school buildings, including classrooms and instructional and/or support rooms.  The use of certain appliances (microwave ovens, toaster ovens, coffee machines, electric hot plates, and refrigerators) is limited to the following locations within schools:

  • Designated teacher/staff lounge
  • Designated kitchen area within the school
  • Two or three designated team rooms per floor

Space heaters and dehumidifiers are permitted if approved by the Division of Maintenance and Operations or the Indoor Air Quality Unit, Division of Sustainability and Compliance.

Appliances such as refrigerators and microwaves used for day-care groups, kindergarten, or child development programs to keep liquids refrigerated and then heated to a desired temperature (e.g., formula and/or milk for infants) are permitted in specific day-care rooms, kindergarten classrooms, and child development rooms.  This exception includes any other appliances necessary to meet medical needs of students and staff.

Where appliances are permitted, they must be installed and operated in accordance with manufacturer recommendations and all applicable safety procedures.  

  • All electrical appliances must be plugged directly into wall electrical receptacles.  It is an electrical safety violation to plug appliances into extension cords or portable power strips (surge protectors/multi-strip plug-in receptacles).  
  • Electrical cords may not be placed in walkways or run through doorways, windows, walls, or ceilings.  
  • Three-prong electrical plugs must have all prongs intact.  
  • All appliances must be Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved.

Heat-producing appliances used in the instructional program (hot plates, autoclaves, refrigerators) must be obtained from the MCPS‑approved bid list.

Questions regarding this information may be directed to Peter Park, Team Leader, Systemwide Safety Programs, Office of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management, at 240-740-7752 or via e-mail.

^ Back to Top


Hand Sanitizer

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% ethanol or at least 70% isopropanol) may be used by MCPS students and staff to sanitize hands that are not visibly dirty or greasy when handwashing with soap and water is not feasible.  MCPS schools and facilities must ensure hand sanitizer is not misused and must also comply with fire safety requirements related to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Requirements include:

  • Hand sanitizer dispensers may not obstruct walkways or doorways.
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers may not be installed in corridors that are less than 6 feet (1.8 meters) in width.
  • Maximum dispenser capacities are: 
    • 0.32 gallons (1.2 liters) for exit access corridors and areas open to exit access corridors 
    • 0.53 gallons (2.0 liters) for rooms separated from exit access corridors
  • Dispensers must be separated from each other (horizontally) by at least 4 feet (1.2 meters).
  • Dispensers may not be placed directly above carpeted floors, except in sprinklered areas.
  • Dispensers may not be installed within 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) of ignition sources or combustible materials (such as paper or cardboard).
  • Quantities of 5 gallons (18.9 liters) or more may not be stored in a single room or fire compartment (an area enclosed by fire barriers on all sides, top, and bottom).
  • Hand sanitizers containing more than 95% alcohol are not permitted.

Keep hand sanitizer in the manufacturers’ containers.  Do not transfer it to unlabeled bottles or other containers because people might not know what it is and some containers, which are not designed to hold hand sanitizer, can leak.  For your safety and to ensure effectiveness, do not try to make your own hand sanitizer and never mix different hand sanitizers together.  This can result in a mixture that does not kill germs effectively or is hazardous. 


Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer

  • Ensure students know how to properly use hand sanitizer.
  • Make sure students do not swallow hand sanitizer or spill it on the floor, which can cause people to slip and fall.  
  • Place hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer dispensers for students in locations that can be monitored by school staff.  
  • Ensure hand sanitizer dispensers are positioned well below face height for young children, so they do not splash their eyes and face. 



What is the proper way to use hand sanitizer?

In order to effectively kill germs, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol or at least 70% isopropanol.  

  • Step 1: Apply the hand sanitizer to your hands.  Use enough hand sanitizer to fully cover your hands.
  • Step 2: Rub your hands together, making sure you get the hand sanitizer all over the back of your hands, palms, nails, spaces between your fingers, and your thumbs.  Continue rubbing until your hands are dry.  This should take about 20 seconds. 
  • Step 3: Make sure to let the hand sanitizer dry on your hands.  Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer. 

hand sanitizer1

hand sanitizer2a

You should wash your hands with soap and water, rather than using hand sanitizer alone, at certain times: 

  • Before and after eating. 
  • Before, during, and after preparing food.
  • After using the bathroom.  
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.  
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound for yourself or someone else.   
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.   
  • After touching an animal, animal feed and pet food, or animal waste.  
  • After touching garbage.  
  • When your hands are visibly dirty, greasy, or sticky. 
  • After handling hazardous chemicals, even if you wear gloves.




^ Back to Top


Portable Fire Extinguishers (PFEs)


All MCPS schools are equipped with portable fire extinguishers (PFEs). PFEs should only be used by trained personnel. Additionally, MCPS discourages employees from attempting to fight fires. If a fire is observed or suspected in a building, all occupants must evacuate immediately and call 911. The county or state requires PFEs in the following locations:

  • All Purpose Room (APR) Stages
  • Art Rooms
  • Auditorium Stages
  • Auto Shops
  • Boiler Rooms
  • Cafeteria Kitchens
  • Family & Consumer Science Rooms
  • Labs (science, tech, etc.)
  • Wood Shops
  • Outdoor concession stands
  • Head Start classrooms

PFEs are not authorized for locations, other than those listed above, in MCPS schools.

Annual inspections are conducted by a contractor; monthly inspections are the school’s responsibility. Building services should:

  • Make sure tag, pin, tamper seal, hose, and nozzle are in place
  • Make sure hose/nozzle are not clogged with paper, pencils, etc.
  • Check for signs of visible damage (corrosion, leaks, dents, etc.)
  • Check the gauge, make sure the needle is in the green operation zone
  • Make sure PFEs are visible and not obstructed
  • Write initials and date on inspection tag

Contact the Division of Sustainability and Compliance at 240-740-2326 if:

  • PFEs are damaged or low on charge
  • PFEs are missing or improperly mounted
  • There are questions about annual inspections
  • A PFE has been discharged 


^ Back to Top


Fire Safety Requirements for Summer School Programs

A school housing an academic program running from 1 day to 30 days in length is required to conduct a minimum of one fire evacuation drill. This drill must be reported and logged in the fire drill log. At the end of the summer, this log must be faxed (240-777-2465) or mailed to the fire marshal’s office. Please note: fire drill logs no longer need to be forwarded to the Fire Marshal's Office.

A school housing an academic program running from 31 days to 60 days in length is required to conduct a minimum of two fire evacuation drills. At least one evacuation drill must be conducted in the first 30 days, and the second fire evacuation drill must be conducted in the next 30 days. These fire evacuation drills must be logged and reported as described above.

Schools that are assigned two separate summer school sessions must conduct at least one fire evacuation drill for each session. The fire evacuation drills must be logged and reported as described above.

Questions may be directed to the Office of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management, at 240-740-3066.

^ Back to Top


Daily Fire Safety Inspection

It is the responsibility of each facility’s principal/administrator to ensure daily inspection of the fire alarm control panel, as well as all exits, to ensure their safe operation and clear means of egress. Specific fire safety questions/concerns should be referred to Peter Park, Team Leader, Systemwide Safety Programs, Office of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management, at 240-740-7752 or via e-mail.

^ Back to Top


Open Fires, Flames (Bonfires, Grilling)

Open fires and flames (such as bonfires, grilling or smoking food, candles, torches) are prohibited at MCPS facilities, with the exceptions of routine food preparation, science, and maintenance activities and charcoal grilling that is specifically granted on an individual basis as part of an Adopt-A-Field agreement. See MCPS Regulation EBA-RA, Fire Safety.