In 2011, when Virginia Chang Kiraly was campaigning for election to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, one issue of great concern to her was the fact that school fire alarms within the Fire District were not connected in some way to the Fire District. This means that when a fire breaks out in schools, there is no alarm notification directed to the Fire District to respond quickly to this emergency. Therefore, schools and neighborhoods depend on chance to alert the Fire District of a fire.
No False Alarm, No Connection
Virginia experienced this situation first-hand when she was serving hot lunch at her children’s school in 2008. A fire alarm was activated and was not a false alarm. After school administrators and teachers made sure that students and parent volunteers were safely outside and accounted for, there was no response from firefighters or police, despite the fact that there was a fire station seven blocks from the school.
As an active parent in her children’s school district, she was stunned to learn, from the principal, that there was no connection of any kind to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. Her immediate thought was, “if my school district, which is considered one of the wealthiest school districts in California isn’t connected, what other school districts aren’t?”
San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Report
As the foreperson of the 2008-2009 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury, Virginia brought this issue to be investigated for all public school districts in San Mateo County. The Civil Grand Jury concluded that 45% of the public school districts and public schools, in toto, in San Mateo County did not have a monitored alarm system that would notify respective fire departments or fire districts, including some of the most financially-challenged school districts. The Grand Jury’s report could not investigate private schools, so they were not part of the 45% number. The mandatory response from the public school districts and public schools showed that many of them did not want to spend extra funds to connect their fire alarms to a first responder and that they were in compliance with California state law that does not require a monitored alarm system in any schools built before 2002.
Beechwood School Fire
Ring The Bell Fund
Following the Beechwood School fire that occurred in the early morning of September 13, 2012, Virginia and her husband, Ken, created Ring The Bell Fund, a nonprofit organization, to help raise funds for, the awareness of, and to educate the public on the importance of having monitored fire alarm infrastructure and automatic sprinklers in schools to ensure the safety of our children, school property, and neighborhoods.