Students to patrol for fires at Oakland college with failing alarms

Merritt College in Oakland is hiring students to patrol its campus to make sure nothing catches fire after inspectors ordered the community college be placed on "fire watch."

City fire inspectors found failing alarms, code violations, and unsafe conditions. Merritt College is the second school in the Peralta Community College District to be put on notice and forced to pay thousands of dollars for people to periodically look for signs of smoke or flames.

Instead of hiring professional security staff at Merritt College, students who are part of the Campus Security Aides program will patrol once an hour of every day. The district said it comes at a cost of nearly $6,000 per week, which is a savings compared to the fire watch guards already patrolling Laney College. Additionally, a Peralta spokesperson said, it's experience for students training for careers in law enforcement.

Fire inspection records show as of August 1, all five buildings at Merritt College have problematic fire alarms. Additionally, there are some missing sprinklers, missing carbon monoxide detectors, doors that don't latch, and extension cords plugged into one another.

"It's unsettling to see that," Peralta Community College District Chancellor Frances White said. "I think the goal is to make sure maintenance and operations are always at a level where you don't worry about that kind of thing."

White has been on the job since March, and said she was hired to clean-up the four East Bay community colleges that have largely been neglected and fallen into disrepair.

In July, 2 Investigates exposed the ongoing issues with broken fire alarms and panels at Laney College in Oakland. The district is still shelling out $12,000 a week to have guards patrol campus. The district confirmed in total, more than $360,000 has been spent and counting.

But 2 Investigates caught the paid guards, who were supposed to be monitoring campus, on their cell phones, lounging around, smoking, or sleeping on the job.

Despite being on fire watch since January, the chancellor said progress is being made and work is expected to be completed by mid-September.

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"The good news is, we're not going to remain on fire watch," White said in a July interview with KTVU.

Fire watch at Merritt College is just the latest in a long list of issues first exposed by 2 Investigates early this year, from out-of-service emergency phones to broken elevators and more. While many things are finally being addressed, the teachers' union is still fearful.

"Faculty and students and staff and administrators had been working in facilities that were obviously unsafe for so long," Jennifer Shanoski, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers said. "Of course it's a concern for us, and we hope it's resolved before something terrible happens to us."

Thursday and Friday teachers and staff participated in active shooter and campus safety training. The district said it wants staff to be prepared when students come back for classes Monday.

There is no estimate as to when Merritt College could have the fire system and code violations fixed.

If you have a tip or information related to the Peralta Community College District, send 2 Investigates an email at