It may take a little bit longer, but in the end I think safety is obviously the number one priority,” said Assistant Principal for Student Life Brock Kesterson regarding St. Louis U. High’s new fire drill procedure.
Kesterson, along with Director of Security Charlie Clark and the administrative team of Principal John Moran, Assistant Principal for Diversity Chip Clatto, Assistant Principal for Academics Tom Becvar and Assistant Principal for Mission Jim Linhares, stressed the idea of emergency preparedness and how to improve and ensure safety for students over summer break meetings.
“One of my major concerns was (that) we did not account for our students, especially in fire drills,” said Kesterson.
Before this year, school fire drills involved everyone leaving the building in classes by following a set path posted in each room. Students and faculty would either head toward the football stadium, east on Oakland Ave., or out the back alley and into the neighborhood off of Berthold.
The administrative group brainstormed, talked to the Science Center, St. Louis University, the police chief, and other Jesuit schools to discern what would be the best procedure for SLUH to make sure no students would be left in the building unaccounted for.
The administrative team came up with a plan to centralize the entire school, thus making attendance easily accountable.
After unlocking the football stadium gates and preparing for most of second period, the administrative team was ready and Kesterson came on the P.A. After debriefing the school, he quickly radioed Director of Maintenance Rick Figge to sound the alarm. The alarm sounded and the procession to the football stadium began. Kesterson made a quick stop by his office to retrieve his loudspeaker, which rendered him unable to beat the crowd outside. Clatto manned the freshman hall, as students and faculty poured out onto the upper field walkways. In four minutes, Kesterson reached the field and waited for homerooms to line up while directing lost students and unprepared teachers. Two minutes later, Kesterson moved to midfield and helped direct a homeroom teacher who had not received guidelines because of morning prayer service.
Ten minutes after the alarm sounded, all students and faculty appeared to have arrived. Teachers in the south end zone notified Kesterson that one teacher had not shown up. Teachers checked back at midfield for attendance purposes, but were told by Kesterson to report only if someone is missing.
Two minutes later, Kesterson and Assistant to the Assistant Principal of Student Life Marla Maurer realized that the freshman quadrant of the field was too cluttered, so Kesterson shifted one homeroom down to the 45-yard line.
Realizing that Activity Period was running out, Kesterson swiftly ran north up the field to check attendance homeroom by homeroom; one homeroom teacher was initially missing, but was quickly found.
Exactly 15 minutes after the alarm sounded, the drill was over. All faculty, staff and students were supposedly accounted for and released. Maurer, Clark, Moran and Kesterson met at midfield to double check the attendance sheets; they were unsure of the attendance of six students.
At 9:58, the administrative team began to head back. At the top of the stadium steps, Clark, Kesterson and Moran met with St. Louis fire chief Baron Ross and the police chief to discuss ways to streamline the process, while keeping it safe. Ross stated that alternate places for the school to congregate must be 500 feet away—out of the “hot zone.” Clark suggested the Danis Field House as a possible alternative if the fire was on the opposite end of campus; Ross agreed. Finally, they headed back to the building but were interrupted by computer teacher Tim Rittenhouse who said that the alarm did not sound in the Field House—a problem that will possibly rule out the Field House as an alternative congregation point.
Clark, Kesterson and Moran entered the building at 10:08, then realized announcements have yet to been read. Shortly after, Clatto came on the P.A. as Kesterson attempted to stop fleeing students instead of sending them back to their second period class. At 10:11, activity period began—leaving students only 15 minutes until the next class.
“Overall, I was pretty pleased with how the first (drill) went,” said Kesterson, noting changes would need to be made, and that meetings would follow shortly.
This drill begins a whole new outlook on SLUH safety and security. A new check-in system has been implemented already, but now an emergency team is in the process of being added by the end of the quarter.
Kesterson concluded, “It’s just a matter of being proactive as a community, and educating everybody involved how to deal with what’s going on around you.”