Fire Scare Results in New School Policy

ep-8th-buggy-catches-fire-on-trackWhen the fire alarm sounded shortly after lunch on January 5th, most students assumed it was a drill or a false alarm, but the sight of smoke and the acrid smell of burning plastic quickly set a serious tone as the school gathered to take attendance near the snow-covered fields. This was not a drill. A remote control car had caught fire outside the robotics room and the school would respond with new policies designed to prevent future fires.

It is not surprising that a Northwood School, housed in a hundred-year-old wooden structure, has a tight fire protocols. We have at least ten fire drills each year. A sensitive fire monitoring system means every student must be cautions when in their rooms where spraying Febreeze or even deodorant can set off an alarm that results in a campus-wide evacuation until the Lake Placid Fire Department can inspect the building and reset the alarm.

Last year, a couple of students started RC Club, devoted to building and operating remote control cars, drones and other vehicles. There was no harm done to the school except for a little annoyance when members occasionally raced their cars through the dorm halls. The RC club had no incidents or accidents until that cold afternoon on January 5, when Aiden Smith’s ‘19  RC car battery melted as he was driving it outside the robotics room. “It was most likely caused by an overdischarge of the lipo [lithium polymer] battery” said Smith. The fire was quickly extinguished and the foul odor was gone the next day.

School administrators quickly responded with a new policy. Dean of Students Mr.Gino Riffle’s sent the following email to the school community:


I am writing to inform you that due the potential fire safety from this point forward no student is allowed to be in possession of remote control vehicle in his or her room or inside a building.  If you have one in your possession bring it to my office today and we will find a secure location to store it.  You will be allowed to use these outside with the permission of a faculty member.  The faculty has been instructed to confiscate any car they see in your room or the building.  You have until dinner on Friday to turn these over your advisor.  If you are found to be in possession of this type of toy after dinner on Friday you will be in violation of a major school rule.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Mr. Riffle

Aiden Smith was not happy with the new policy “I think that Mr.Riffle’s response to the incident was a bit excessive. This is because the lipo batteries are the most dangerous part of the vehicle, which is why after every use I unplug the battery and store it in a safe place. Also, lipo batteries are most dangerous while in use and being charged. This is why I have a battery charger that prevents me from overcharging the battery and I almost always use my RC vehicles outside. Richard and I proposed to Mr.Rifle that instead of taking everything away from us, he could just hold onto the batteries because that is what is the most dangerous.”

Mr. Riffle said the school’s new policy is consistent with policies at other schools and he noted that the school needs to take an abundance of caution when responding to fire hazards.

Robotics is one of Northwood School’s new classes where students build remote-controlled vehicles for state and regional competitions. Some students have questioned why robotics can operate while other RC devices were restricted. “Robotics is under…adult supervision who has been properly trained in case of a fire. The proper alarm systems and fire safety needs are in close proximity of the robotics room.  Also, the robotics room is located in an area away from lots of foot traffic and dorm rooms.  The room is not filled with materials that burn quickly” answered Mr.Riffle.


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