Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Forgotten Fire

   Type "New Rochelle" into Google.  A lot of people have been talking about New Rochelle lately.

   There was a ridiculous buzzer beating shot made by the boys basketball team in sectional playoffs.  You may have seen it on SportsCenter and featured on the front page of ESPN last week.  Its all over YouTube too.  The team is still alive in states and has advanced to the semifinals. 

   Super Bowl Champion Ray Rice is also from New Rochelle, New York.  There was a parade held for him here recently.

   Iona, a small college situated on the northern end of the city qualified for its 2nd straight NCAA tournament.  They're hoping they don't blow another 30 point lead in their opening game. 

   There is a lot of small town style civic pride going on in this normally nondescript suburb of New York City.  A city that pushes a population of 100,000.  Middle class homes and apartments to the south, a diverse urban heart that can't really be differentiated from the nearby Bronx and properties with 7 figure values to the North.  Express trains that run every 15 minutes during the day get you into the heart of Manhattan in 20 minutes.  A happy suburban utopia with something for everyone, right?

  Back in January of this year there was a fire at New Rochelle High School.  During the evacuation, two students who use wheelchairs were left on the 3rd floor of the building for at least 20 minutes while the building was evacuated and cleared by emergency responders.  Enraged parents rightfully complained to the Justice Department, and an investigation is under way.

   Reports of this incident "broke" during the fourth week of February.  I use quotations because this story is conveniently shuffled amongst the media celebrations.  I live in this city.  I watch the local channel 12 news often enough and I heard nothing of this.  I asked a few parents of some kids in the school that I know (not exactly a statistically significant survey)if they heard anything about kids in wheelchairs left in the school.  The parents did not know.  One parent called her son and asked him.  He did not know.  My point here is that this story isn't exactly trending.

   Here is a report from local news that came out 2 days before the above posted NBC NY story that is much more sympathetic to the New Rochelle School District.  It states that according to NRHS, the Fire Dept. knew of the location of the disabled children and advised the school to move them to their position, a direct contradiction to what the father of Jennifer Feltenstein told NBC.  Both sources agree that her father objected to her having classes on the 3rd floor, where there is no escape route from the building that does not involve stairs.  An "advocacy" group in Westchester County gave support to NRHS, agreeing that the school was right to follow the (disputed)judgement of the Fire Dept and keep Jennifer put.  (If you have a group of folks that requires civil advocacy because its not being treated as equal in society, and you have a complaint, and you back down from that complaint because an agency of the government of the society oppressing you says "its fine!"'re not a very good advocate)

   I have a lot of issues here.  First and foremost, if it is deemed necessary to evacuate 3000 students from a building from a threat posed by burning wires, how is it that two students in wheelchairs on the highest floor of the building are in less danger and don't need to be removed?  I didn't know there was middle ground in an order to evacuate a building being threatened by fire. 

   Feltenstein's father, Rich tells NBC that the faculty is not trained in using the evacuation wheelchairs.  When I went to school there was a little thing called a fire drill.  They happened several times a year.  Everybody is supposed to do some nifty role playing in a fire drill.  Wouldn't part of making pretend there was a fire and evacuating the building in an orderly fashion also involve getting physically disabled students into evacuation wheelchairs and getting them out of the building as well?  How can they have no experience evacuating students in wheelchairs?

   The concept of "safe rooms" defies all common logic as well.  If the school is on fire what room is safe? ......Really?  safe room?  Did Miss Cleo divine with a tadpole and develop this strategy?

   An aide and a security guard kept Jennifer company on the 3rd floor during the fire.  It must be of great comfort for her to know that should she perish in flames, an aide and security guard will perish with her.  Could the aide and security guard have been.......I don't know.........maybe... maaaaaybe trained in evacuating her?

   Mr. Feltenstein complains about Jennifer having classes on the 3rd floor.  I don't agree with that.  Faculty on the 3rd floor should be trained in evacuating physically disabled students.  She should have access to any class she wants to take in the presence of her able bodied peers.  Only if its a logistical impossibility to remove her from the 3rd floor should she not be up there.  Impossibility, not inconvenience or requiring effort on the part of a professional. 

   This whole situation reeks of deep social ableism.  The "safe room" strategy is after all a NY State mandate.  NRHS taught 3000 students on that day that the lives of the physically disabled are not worth the extra effort and teamwork to get them out of a building.  Media plasters inspirational stories of people running into burning buildings to get their pets and emergency responders rescuing kittens, but we leave humans in fires if its inconvenient to help them move.  When a disabled person loses their life, society will not question its self, it will blame the disability.

   Something for everyone in this suburban utopia.  If you're disabled then that something is silence, or your ass roasting on an open fire. 



1 comment:

  1. Your answer to your question about the aide and guard being trained is NO.