CANYON LAKE, Texas (STPNS) -- Last summer the Comal Independent School District decided to tear down a perfectly good elementary school with a full fire sprinkler system and replace it with another more costly school that is only partially sprinkled.

In August 2007, Fire officials distraught over this decision spoke out in an attempt to persuade Superintendent Marc Walker and board president Bill Swint to re-think what they considered to be a very poor decision.          

Then Comal County Fire Marshal Lin Manford went on the record saying that while the planned school met the minimum fire code, the technology of a sprinkler system in making a school safer was well documented.  He was joined in his position by Deputy Fire Marshal Wayne Ellington (the current Comal County Fire Marshal), and certified fire inspector Darren L. Brinkkoeter, who also stepped up in an effort to convince CISD of its error.  In a series of articles we published on the matter, Canyon Lake Fire/EMS Chief Shaw Wherry also made his opinion known.

"I am shocked and extremely troubled that this is happening," said Wherry.  

"We have so many examples of why and how sprinklers save lives and property and this level of regression is deplorable."  

During his effort to insure the safety of the school children, Manford was contacted by CISD Board President Bill Swint, who invited Manford to a meeting at the new CISD central office.

Manford and Ellington attended the meeting, which included superintendent Marc Walker, former CISD maintenance director Roy Linnartz (now a consultant), assistant superintendent Thomas Bloxham, CISD board president Bill Swint, former CISD board president Dan Krueger, a representative from Pfluger and Associates, architects, and a couple of other unidentified gentlemen.  

Notably, Communication Director Kari Hutchison was not in attendance.          

Swint later told this newspaper that "The purpose of the meeting was to share any concerns relative to communication between the district and the Fire Marshall's [sic] office. I believe we have all agreed  on a process that achieves this goal.."

Why the communication director would not be present at a meeting purportedly to discuss "communication" has never been explained.      

What happened in the high level shut door meeting has not been disclosed, until now.    

We did know that the meeting took place, as Swint admitted to it after our contact of August 20, 2007.  

However, no one was willing to fully or adequately characterize the nature of the meeting or what was said--evidently because--we now know, officials were attempting to keep secret the wholesale realization and acknowledgement that the school in Sattler was receiving less than state-of-the art fire safety features.  

According to Manford now, Walker and Krueger even admitted that the school would be safer with a full sprinkler system and the architect said they would rather install sprinklers in all the schools.  So why wasn't it being done?  

As Walker informed Manford at the time, the school in Sattler would be sub-standard as compared to the new high school at Canyon Lake (but he didn't say it in those words), simply because CISD did not have enough money.   The high school would be fully sprinkled, whereas the Canyon Lake Middle School would not be.

What shocked Manford and Ellington at the time is how the booster club comes in to the equation, a fact that Manford now reveals in an exclusive one-on-one interview.

Amazingly, Walker is out stumping for another huge bond issue--$205,850,000 this time--to be decided May 10.  It has been stated by some that money from the 2005 $189,230,000 bond issue is now being used to make land purchases that will evidently be used in the construction of facilities not yet authorized by the 2008 bond issue.  If this is true, the legality is suspect.  And, if it is true, then Walker's statement to the Fire Marshal that there wasn't enough money to install a full sprinkler system in the new Mt. Valley Middle Middle School just isn't factual.  How could you have money left over from a previous bond issue to buy land, but not enough to take fire safety with greater seriousness?      

Jeopardizing the safety of school children by not providing consistent fire safety features from school to school, features which state and national fire associations highly recommend, has lead to consternation on the part of fire and other officials all across Comal County.

So concerned was the New Braunfels City Council that they passed an ordinance just this year requiring certain fire sprinkler provisions in all schools in the city.  Unfortunately, many CISD schools are located outside the jurisdiction of the City of New Braunfels.          

Manford is coming forward now, to not only reiterate the need for fire sprinklers in all schools and public buildings, but to tell the truth about why he retired early and the role CISD had in ousting him from a job he took seriously in working with the schools in his jurisdiction.      

Anyone with school children in the Comal Independent School District should not take this interview lightly.  It is not too late to fire the superintendent for his apparent abuse of power which may have lead to the attempted silencing of Manford and it is not too late to demand that the CISD Board of Trustees order full fire sprinklers in all CISD schools.  

As a result of this interview, we still wonder about the nature of employment of Roy Linnartz with the district.  He is retired from CISD, having served many years as Director of Maintenance.  One can surmise that he knows where the skeletons are buried.  He does  know about the illegal trash dump CISD operated at Smithson Valley Middle School for many years where epoxy, paint, asbestos and other toxic substances were (and are?) buried over the school?s drinking water table.  He denied knowing anything about it until the then TNRCC came in and demanded CISD clean it up--though only the surface was scraped and what may be underneath still remains a closely guarded secret.  

Linnartz knows about the controversy regarding the lead contamination problem found in the water at Bill Brown Elementary school some years ago, and the allegation that it is related to the missing contaminated dome dirt that disappeared from the construction site of the Alamo Dome--when a CISD trustee worked for the very company in charge of the construction--at the very same time "stream bed documented dirt" was hauled in to the BBE site by the mega truckload.  (Who documents the source of fill unless there is a reason to take someone's eye off the ball?) Linnartz was a good and loyal employee of the school district.

As a consultant to CISD, what is Linnartz' real role in getting things done?  What did Walker order him to do relative to Manford, if anything?  Who then in the Sheriff's Office did he allegedly talk to and what did he allegedly say, and why?  

We know from independent sources that Manford had not intended to retire when he did.          

Was he forced to resign?  Was he made so uncomfortable by higher-ups as a result of pressure from CISD that he had no choice?  These remain unanswered questions--questions that the CISD Board of Trustees had best be investigating,unless, of course, they are complicit in a scheme to deliver the public sub-standard safety and shut up the official who blew the whistle about it.          

Manford's interview follows.

Kirk: How are you liking retirement?

Manford:  I'm enjoying it.  I'm getting to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and if I don't want to do it, it doesn't get done.

Kirk:  So, are you sleeping in or are you still getting up early in the morning?

Manford:  I'm getting up early in the morning and going with the wife to the gym at 5:30, exercising for about 45 minutes, come back, eat breakfast and while she's getting ready to go to work, I go back to bed.  I may fall asleep; I may just watch the TV for awhile. I let her get through in the bathroom and off before I get up and then, do what I need to do.

Kirk:  That sounds like paradise.

Manford:  It is.

Kirk:  So how many years did you work as a police officer?

Manford:  About 36.

Kirk:  Where did you start your career?

Manford:  I started my career in Luling.  When I graduated from college, they had a patrolman that got hurt in a car wreck and needed someone part time. Since I had grown up there and used to ride with the police, I worked there about two months before he could come back.  Then I went to Pleasanton, worked down there for a year and two months and when I left Pleasanton, I went to D.P.S. and I had a career with them, 25 years and ten months.

Kirk:  And what did you do for D.P.S.?

Manford:  I was in the highway patrol service all that time. Eleven months I went to McAllen and I worked a special task force of narcotics.  What we would do as highway patrolmen is we would look for traffic violations and stop people, you know, try to find dope in cars.  We had under cover people that were down there buying narcotics and we would get in civilian clothes to be in cars and we would cover them when they were doing some of these buys.  I had a D.P.S. helicopter that would fly several of us in on the Rio Grande and we would sleep at some of these border crossings, trying to catch them bring marijuana across the border. It was really interesting.  But, McAllen is a long way from nowhere.  So after eleven months, I came back to San Antonio.  

Kirk:  Did you ever work with drug dogs?

Manford:  No.

Kirk:  You became fire marshal after you retired from D.P.S.?

Manford:  Correct.

Kirk:  And you did work with an arson dog?

Manford:  Correct.

Kirk:  How was that?

Manford:  Very unique.  It's an exceptional tool.  I can't see any of these major departments that are doing numerous fires that don't use that technology.  Like the city of San Antonio, they do not have a K-9, and it just baffles me that with the technology and the usefulness that you can get from a K-9 in helping you to determine the cause of a fire, that they're not used more often.

Kirk:  How does that work, exactly?  You go to a house that is just totally burned out, nothing left but a slab, how does a dog help you there?

Manford:  The K-9 can smell one part per billion.  So, the handler will make sure that there are no hot embers, that there's nothing that can hurt the dog. They might have to clear some of the debris out, but not always. The dog can go in and when he alerts, well then, you'll take a sample of fire debris from that spot, put it in a one gallon lined can and it's sent to the State arson lab in Austin.  Then, they will tell you what kind of accelerant, if there was an accelerant there.  Sometimes there's a false hit but generally it's pretty accurate.

Kirk:  During your time with Comal County, you were fire marshal how long?

Manford:  Almost nine years.

Kirk:  During that period, how many convictions do you think that you guys obtained, arson convictions?  Do you remember a number?

Manford:  I really don't, Doug.  Some of them were arsons, but they might have been reduced in the charge.  It might have been a juvenile or something like that and it might have been reduced to criminal mischief from the original charge of arson.

We had a couple of arson convictions but then there were several that were reduced to criminal mischief.  And that was with our consent, working with the district attorney's office.

Kirk:  Arson as a crime, what is the punishment on that?  What's the minimum and maximum if someone is convicted of arson?

Manford:  I think it's a minimum of two years to 20 years, and/or a $10,000 fine.

Kirk:  So it's a pretty serious offense?

Manford:  Yes.  It's a second degree felony, but, if somebody gets hurt, killed or if it was a habitation or a place of assembly or worship, then it goes to a first degree felony, which would be five to 99 years and $10,000 fine.

Kirk:  So a kid who decides he's going to go set fire to an old building or something, he doesn't really realize this, does he?

Manford:  I don't think they know the consequences.

Kirk:  During the course of your career as fire marshal, is there anything that stands out as a victory, something that you guys just feel like you really did well that you're going to list in your roll of achievements?

Manford:  You know, shortly after I took office, Carl Doeppenschmidt had a fire at his place off of 46 where an out building, his barn/office/freezer--it was a large structure, but anyway, that burned and did almost $500,000 in damage.  In fact, up until today I still think that is the highest damage total of an arson fire in the unincorporated area of Comal County. There was a chemical fire off Engel Road, but that was in the City of New Braunfels.  That cost about $1 million.  But out in the county, I think the Doeppenschmidt fire is still the highest dollar damage for an arson fire.  We investigated that one for several months. Myself, Tommy Hubertus from the State Fire Marshal's Office and several investigators worked on it and we were able to arrest Milton Milburn and go to trial. He was on parole for aggregated robbery at the time of that arson and he received 40 years in prison for the arson and for the theft of property from Mr. Doeppenschmidt.  That was the first big case and that will be a major accomplishment.

And then we've had some other arsons that we've cleared.  And I think that's one reason we don't have as many fires, now.  Because people realize that fires are being investigated and if it is determined that it was intentionally set, that, the perpetrator will be apprehended and prosecuted.

Kirk:  Arsons are the things that we think about when we think about fire marshals, but what does a fire marshal do other than investigate arsons?  What are the routine things that you do on a weekly or monthly basis?

Manford:  The Fire Marshal's Office does inspections of foster care and daycare facilities, inspects the county jail on a quarterly basis, inspects county buildings throughout the county--for fire safety and inspects fireworks stands during the fireworks season. We inspect school buildings before school season every year and then we would make periodic inspections during the school year. We would perform inspections at the request of business and home owners and issue burn permits when justified during burn bans.

The Fire Marshal's Office also conducts presentations for citizen groups to educate them in the area of burn regulations and fire safety procedures, conducts training for law enforcement officers and first responders and maintains the County Fire Marshal's Web Page.

Kirk:  You inspect in the unincorporated part of the county?

Manford:  The unincorporated area was my area of jurisdiction.

Kirk:  That means that the school district primarily is going to be Comal Independent School District?

Manford:  Correct.

Kirk:  Because NBISD is all within the City of New Braunfels?

Manford:  Correct.  Or their ETJ.

Kirk:  Did CISD ever have any fires during your tenure?

Kirk:  Yes, they had one at Spring Branch Middle School.  I believe that was in 2002.  That fire cost almost $3 million in damage, to repair.  

Kirk:  Anybody injured in that fire?

Manford:  No.  It happened during off hours, at nighttime or early morning.  

Kirk:  Any idea what caused the fire?

Manford:  It's been in litigation, but, I believe that it was accidental and it would be contributed to mechanical, up in a mezzanine area.  

Kirk:  Why so much damage?  Does a fire spread that quickly in a structure like that where the fire department just can't get in and stop it?

Manford:  The reason for the high amount of damage was that the fire doors in the hall corridor were supposed to shut.  They're open with a magnet and when the fire alarm goes off, that magnet releases and the doors shut so it will contain the fire to a specific area.  Well, the doors were propped open with desks because they had waxed the floors and they were letting the area air out.  So, the doors never did shut, so the smoke and heat were able to go down the corridor and not get stopped by the doors. That caused excessive damage.

Kirk:  So, fire doors,  those are set up as a fire control, to limit the fire to one area--so, that system failed because the doors were open?

Manford:  Correct.

Kirk:  Now, what about schools where the schools comply with code and they have all kinds of fire containment walls and things of that nature, are those really effective?  Do they work well, or are there problems?

Manford: They work.  You can say the school is safe, but there is a way to make it safer.  And that was one thing that we pushed for, the new construction to have sprinkler systems installed in the schools.  Some of the schools have sprinkler systems.  Some of the schools don't have sprinkler systems.  But while I was fire marshal we tried to push for CISD to install sprinkler systems in all the buildings that they were building.

Kirk:  Let me ask about sprinkler systems.  Don't they tend to go off accidentally and you have water all over the whole building because the whole system gets turned on?  Does that ever happen?  

Manford:  No.  We had one accident at Rebecca Creek Elementary and that was faulty installation of the sprinkler system. When they put two of the pipes together, they didn't get them inserted in far enough and so the pressure separated the pipes and a large amount of water came out. But that wasn't the fault of the sprinkler system.  You know, generally, it's heat that causes the water to come out of the sprinkler head.  So if you have a contained fire there may be only one or two sprinkler heads that actually go off.  The whole system doesn't go off.  

Kirk:  You see in the movies all the time where a fire gets started and you see 20 sprinkler heads spraying at the same time, that's just Hollywood, right?

Manford:  That's movie effects.  

Kirk:  So that really doesn't happen in these schools?

Manford:  No.

Kirk:  So the fear that people have, that the system is going to fail or malfunction and  wet down 20 classrooms, that's unfounded?

Manford:  It's never happened in any of the schools that are sprinkled in the unincorporated area and I've talked to fire personnel with the New Braunfels Fire Department, and they've never had it happen with schools inside the City of New Braunfels.

Kirk:  With respect to sprinkler systems, there is one school that CISD is  building that we understand meets the fire code but they are not fully sprinkling the building, or the structure, why would that be?

Manford: I had a meeting with Comal Independent School District officials and Dr. Walker told me and Deputy Fire Marshal Wayne Ellington at the time, that the reason that they weren't sprinkling Mt. Valley Middle School was that they didn't have the money.

And I specifically asked the question, "Are you telling me the only reason that you're not sprinkling the school is you don't have the money?"  And the answer was, "Yes."

Kirk:  Okay, I'm a little shocked.  It seems like they have money for everything else.  Don't they have money for Astroturf and all kinds of other things?  Why can't they put sprinklers in a school, it seems like that's a safety issue?

Manford:  I don't know their financial standing, but I thought that they would have the money.  It seems like poor planning on somebody's part that you would build a multi-million dollar facility, but you're going to leave the sprinkler system out.

Deputy Fire Marshal Ellington asked Dr. Walker, "Are you telling me that you can spend a million dollars on a football field, but you don't have the money to sprinkle a school?"

And Dr. Walker's reply was, "That just goes to show you that you don't have the clout that the booster club does.  Don't quote me on that."

Well I think he needs to be quoted because I think that's the mindset of the top administrator of CISD.  I don't see why they would build these facilities without having the safest safety feature in there, being a sprinkler system.

Kirk:  Well, so if you don't have the clout, the public doesn't have the clout of the booster club, what does it take to get them to install this safety feature that seems to be common to a lot of public buildings all across the country?  The National Fire Protection Association says they work.  What do we have to do?

Manford:  They're going to have to answer that question.  You know, the National Association of State Fire Marshals did a task force on school fires.  After their task force, their number one recommendation was, and I quote, "Work to insure that every school in America is reliably protected with automatic fire sprinklers."  

And then if you drop down two paragraphs, it says, "NASFM should use its full influence to insure that all schools are fully sprinkled, no later than 2007."

Well here we are in 2008 and we have a school district that is tearing down a school that was sprinkled and re-building that same school unsprinkled.  

And in that same meeting they told Wayne and me that the next four schools that they build were going to be sprinkled.  And then I find out just prior to my leaving office that Smithson Valley Middle School is being added on to, that school is sprinkled, but the addition that they are adding on to is not sprinkled.

So, here is this national association saying we need to have sprinklers in the school, but, our current school district is not up to times.

Kirk:  With respect to that addition, at that school, does it meet fire code?

Manford:  They did not submit the plans to us as required.  It was just a fluke that two of my personnel happened to drive up to the school and found that it was under construction.  Wayne called Guillermo Nieri and asked if they were doing construction and he confirmed it and Wayne told Mr. Nieri that, "We never did get a set of the plans to approve."  And he said, "I'll have Thomas Bloxham call you in five minutes."

Well, we didn't get that phone call.  But within a couple of days we did get plans to the school.  

Darren Brinkkoeter is the plan reviewer that has the expertise to do that.  He's reviewed the plans and that's how we found out that it wasn't going to be sprinkled. There were some modifications that did not meet the code even though they said it was being built to the International Fire Code. There were some things that needed to be changed and these changes have been submitted back to them.  I've left office so I do not know what the status is of that right now.

Kirk:  Tell me about the meeting that was held, that you mentioned where Dr. Walker had said this to you about  you not having the clout that the booster club has.  Who all was in that meeting?

Manford:  Bill Swint, the president, Thomas Bloxham, I think he's Dr. Walker's assistant, Dan Krueger, a trustee, Dr. Walker, myself and Wayne Ellington, Roy Linnartz, the architect from Pfluger and Associates, and a couple of other gentlemen, I don't remember their names or their affiliation with the school.

Kirk:  Who called that meeting?

Manford:  I had sent some correspondence to Bill Swint, to Dr. Walker and others and I never did get a reply back when I was suggesting they put a sprinkler in Mt. Valley Middle.  Mr. Swint came to my office to discuss the correspondence and then he asked if we would be willing to have a meeting and I assured him that we would.  That, if he set it up, we would come.  So he set it up.

Kirk:  Do you remember what the two board members, Swint and Krueger might have said about this?  Here're the guys who are representing the public, how did they come down on this?  They definitely wanted sprinklers, right?

Manford:  Mr. Swint didn't say much during the meeting, but one particular conversation, I told them at the school that they were building was safe, but almost at the same time when I said it could be safer, Mr. Krueger also said it could be safer.  And then it was after that that Dr. Walker and Mr. Krueger both agreed that it would be safer with a sprinkler system, but they wanted to make sure that I understood that it was safe without a sprinkler.  

Kirk:  Did either one of the trustees, the elected officials, did they advocate in this group, in front of the superintendent, did they advocate for a sprinkler system?

Manford:  No.

Kirk: So they bought in to whatever Dr. Walker said?

Manford:  Correct.

Kirk:  They didn't say, you know we really need to do this?

Manford:  No.

Kirk:  Okay, that's fascinating.  Have you had any communication with either one of them, say before or since then, about sprinklers?  Are they aware of what sprinklers can do in terms of promoting the safety of the children?

Manford: I sent Dr. Walker, Bill Swint and Roy Linnartz all the information documenting the value of a sprinkler system including NFPA statistics and all, prior to that meeting.  I knew it was important to get it in as soon as possible so that it could be incorporated in to the building. They were fixing to start the construction of that school and if they were going to make a change they needed to do it immediately.

Kirk:  Do you know whether or not they're doing it?  Are they putting sprinklers in there?

Manford:  Last I was told, they did not have the money.

Kirk:  Let me ask you this, this might be a rhetorical question, but what's the value difference between a child who goes to Startzville Elementary, which is a sprinkled school, and a child who will go to Mt. Valley Middle school, one gets a sprinkler and one doesn't?  Why is there a difference in value of the children, there?

Manford:  I don't understand the inconsistency.  A sprinkler is going to make the school safer.  Dr. Walker and Mr. Krueger both said that.  But, why they are choosing to sprinkle some schools and not sprinkle others, I don't understand.  The architect in the meeting said, "We would like to sprinkle all the schools."  But, he did confirm, you know, "The school is safe, we're going to build it with fire walls, fire doors and all of the requirements.  The school will be safe."  But even their own architect, that's hired by the school, said, "We had rather sprinkle all of the schools."

Kirk:  But what we are being told through the superintendent is that they don't have the money?

Manford:  That was a specific question I asked him and that was the answer.  The reason that it wasn't being sprinkled was they did not have the money.

Kirk:  Are you aware, has he gone to the public and explained to them why that's a good decision, why that's cost savings?

Manford:  I don't think anything has been explained to the public.

Kirk:  I'm not aware of anything either that's come out of the school district.  What about the fact that this was an issue last summer, in August, there were articles in the paper and there were some editorials written.  Did you take any heat because of that?

Manford:  Following this meeting, before I even got back to my office, Mr. Roy Linnartz  contacted one of my supervisors and I got called in. My personal perception is that it was an attempt to silence me from giving you any more factual information than what I had provided to you earlier.  

Kirk:  You've read all the articles that I published in my papers?

Manford:  Yes I did.

Kirk:  Did I write anything that was false with respect to this issue?

Manford:  No, you did not.

Kirk:  Did anybody else in the fire marshal's office read those articles, did they say that, oh this is wrong, this is  misconstrued, there's something inaccurate here?

Manford:  Deputy Fire Marshal Wayne Ellington, who is now the current fire marshal read your articles and he said, "It didn't look good for Comal ISD, but it was the truth."  We never read anything in your articles that we could say was misrepresentation or not truthful.

Kirk:  As you recall, there were other people who came forward and talked about that and the issue of inspections, namely, Chief Ivy over in Bulverde, came forward and talked about some things and provided some information.  He provided e-mails.  Did you even know that he was doing that until you read it in the paper?

Manford:  No I did not.

Kirk:  And do you have a problem with him talking to the media about this?

Manford:  No.

Kirk:  As a retired fire marshal, is this an issue that you think is important at this point?  You're talking about it now, you could be fishing some where.  Why bring this up again?

Manford:  It's a safety issue.  As Comal County Fire Marshal, one of my jobs would be to promote fire safety.  And so I tried to protect the students, the teachers, the visitors to the Comal ISD facilities, and, to protect the building itself.  Because when that building is not occupied and you have a fire that is either accidental or was the target of arsonists in the middle of the night, that fire srpinkler system would help contain or put out that fire.  And, it would minimize greatly the amount of damage that would be caused.  

So, most fire rules are a result of reaction to a disaster, just like when the 100 people or whatever up in Connecticut in the lounge got killed a few years ago, new rules come out.  So most of the rules come out as a result of an incident or disaster. I would just hope that we would not have an incident where a child was hurt or killed down here.  I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that it didn't.  

Kirk:  With regard to the children, if a fire gets started in a classroom, how much time does a kid, teachers and children, how much time do they have to get to safety if a fire gets going in one of the classrooms?

Manford:  That's hard to determine, Doug, because it depends on your fuel load.  If it was in an area that there was highly flammable material, it can go really fast.  If it was a place where it started small, they may have a lot more time to get out.  So it's going to depend on the fire load and where it starts, and if it's getting the proper amount of oxygen.  A lot of times these fires go out because they burn themselves out if they don't have the oxygen.  

Kirk:  What about smoke?  What kills a person in a fire?

Manford:  Smoke, chemicals, heat.  In a fire you can have heat up to 1800 degrees.  That's the reason people say, oh I could get out of my house, but the fire goes up to the ceiling and the smoke, the heat and the gasses go up to the ceiling and it starts banking down.  It comes down toward the floor.  So you may be in your bed at night and if you are lucky enough to wake up and you realize your house is on fire, that's the reason that they tell you to stay low.  Because if you stand up on the floor, then your head would be in that cloud bank and your first breath that you took, you would inhale those poisonous gasses and heated air, maybe 1800 degrees. That's where they're going to find you, right there.  Either on the bed or right beside the bed, or if you were in a recliner, right beside it.  But generally it's not the fire itself that kills you.  It's the smoke, the heat and the poisonous gasses.

Kirk:  If a fire gets going in a building, say, a school building and the fire takes place where there are appliances, heating, air-conditioning, whatever, things that are going to be maybe undetected for awhile and the smoke builds up, if there was a sprinkler system, would that react to that heat that builds up on the ceiling?

Manford:  If there is a sprinkler system where that heat is building up.

Kirk:  What does that sprinkler system do?  Turns on the water?  Does it call the fire department?

Manford:  Both.  Whenever water starts flowing in that sprinkler system, the fire alarm goes off. If it's monitored, the monitoring company is automatically notified. They in turn call the Sheriff's Office dispatcher who calls the fire department and informs them that a fire alarm has been activated at such and such school.  So you're going to get a quicker response from the fire department, versus the school not being monitored and having to wait for somebody to drive by in the middle of the night and see flames or smoke and then call it in.

Kirk:  I'm talking about a building that's occupied.  Teachers are teaching, children are learning, and the fire gets going someplace, wouldn't a sprinkler system activate more quickly than maybe looking down the hall seeing the smoke billowing out of a storage room or something?

Manford:  True.  There's a good possibility that it would.

Kirk:  If there is panic in a school, and don't fires generally cause panic...

Manford:  Generally.

Kirk:  ...don't people tend to not think?

Manford:  Everybody wants out.

Kirk:  If there's panic in a school, an elementary or a middle school, what are kids likely to do if they're not well trained?

Manford:  They want to hide.  You know at home, you'll find kids that will go to a closet, hide underneath the bed.  They're trying to get away from fear.  But they will hide.  

Kirk: So they don't necessarily jump out the window like you and I might do?

Manford:  No.  The students like at the high school, older, you know, in their teens, they're more apt to be able to take care of themselves.  But the smaller students, they're going to react to the fear.  And they're going to try to hide where they feel safe.  

Kirk:  So if you had a shortage of money, and you could only sprinkle some schools and not all, would you put your money in to sprinkling the high schools or the elementary and middle schools?  If you had a choice?

Manford:  The elementary school with the [smaller] kids.

Kirk:  Do you know if the new Canyon Lake High school is sprinkled?

Manford:  It was fully sprinkled.

Kirk:  But, wouldn't it make more sense to spend that same money in a school where kids are more likely to need the assistance?

Manford:  I would think so. You can play devil's advocate and say, okay, well, Canyon Lake High School cost so many millions of dollars and we're using that to protect our investment.   Because a sprinkler is going to protect kids, but it's also going to protect the investment when nobody is around.  Safety is first, then protection of the building.  So did they put a sprinkler system to protect a multi-million dollar school out there which is a lot more money than the one in Sattler?  I don't know, that would be a question for them.

Kirk:  Are we putting a price on a child's life?  If it?s a matter of safety, shouldn't we spend all the available money making sure safety is paramount?  So whatever you can do,  make sure the school is firesafe?  Not just the minimum code requirements, but do everything you can?

Manford:  I would think so.  That's what I tried to get done.  That's why I pushed so hard to get a sprinkler system put in Mt. Valley Middle.  It just did not make sense to me to have a school that was sprinkled, tear down that school and build it back not sprinkled.  And I couldn't understand why so many of the schools are sprinkled, but then, you know, an addition is not going to be sprinkled when the main portion of the existing school is already sprinkled.  I could never get anybody to give me justification on why.  Other than, "It meets the code."

Kirk:  But we do know the Board of Trustees is aware of it because the president and the former president, Dan Krueger has been there longer than anybody, they were in the meeting where it was discussed, your view, your feeling as the fire marshal, was discussed, that a sprinkler system would be a good idea.  They were there, right?

Manford:  They were there and agreed it would be safer.

Kirk:  But we're still, apparently, not getting a sprinkler system in Sattler.

Manford:  That's my understanding.

Kirk:  So as former fire marshal, your hands are tied, now, there's not anything you can do, and Wayne Ellington is not here to speak for himself, but if you had to guess, how would the new fire marshal feel about this?

Manford: I visited with Wayne, we worked together for several years.  He would like to see sprinklers, automatic fire sprinkler systems in all the schools.

Kirk:  What about the fact that now there is starting to be some media coverage in New Braunfels?  Particularly, it was the Herald-Zeitung that is talking about this and the City Council in New Braunfels is making statements that, yeah, we need to have sprinklers, what's your reaction to that?  

Manford:  Very positive.  Proactive.  It's my understanding the new code, that they are looking at adopting will not allow any school district to build a school with the fire walls, fire doors and all, that they're going to be using in Sattler for Mt. Valley Middle school at this time.

Up there, if the building was over 20,000 sq. ft. you had to have a sprinkler system.  But, what they did is they designed the building to where it was, like 19,700, 19,200--there was a play on the square footage to keep it where they didn't have to have the automatic fire sprinkler system.  But with that new code in New Braunfels, if it's over 6,000 sq. ft. they will have to have a sprinkler system.  

Kirk:  But the code in New Braunfels will not apply to Comal County outside the city limits?

Manford:  No it won't.

Kirk:  Do you know if the city of Bulverde has a similar code to what New Braunfels is doing?

Manford: I don't know that.

Kirk:  And Garden Ridge, do you have any idea if they have a similar code?

Manford:  I'm not familiar.  Because all of mine, as I said, was the unincorporated area.  The ones that have city limits that have city government, they can adopt an ordinance just like the City of New Braunfels has.  But, that didn't concern me because I had no jurisdiction within their city limits.  

Kirk:  Does it appear that New Braunfels is showing some leadership to the rest of the county?

Manford:  I would think so.

Kirk:  Do you have any idea, did anyone say why they are doing this?  Obviously it's going to create some expense for NBISD and for public buildings.  Did anybody say or had you heard how they justify it?

Manford:  Safety.  It's a safety issue.  

Kirk:  Let me ask you this about cars.  It's required right now in the State of Texas to wear a seat belt.  Is it required to have an air bag in a car?

Manford:  No.  

Kirk:  If you had a choice between a car that had an airbag and a car that didn't have an airbag, which would you drive in?

Manford:  I would take the one with the airbag.

Kirk:  Why?

Manford:  Additional safety.

Kirk:  Why would you do that?

Manford:  It's proven.  It cuts down on injuries.  It's a safety feature.  

Kirk:  But it's going to cost you.

Manford:  It's technology.

Kirk:  It's going to cost you for that airbag.

Manford:  I understand that, but I'll pay for the safety.

Kirk:  So it's worth it to you?

Manford:  It's worth it.

Kirk:  Do you think the sprinkler's are worth it?

Manford:  They're worth it.