FERRIER FILES: Middle Tennessee sheriff at odds with fire marshal over school safety plan
PERRY COUNTY, Tenn. —
A middle Tennessee sheriff's bold plan for school safety is being fought by state officials.
Perry County Sheriff Nick Weems will show you how ridiculous it is to even pretend students are safe in schools.
“These classroom door locks can be shot out and that doorway is open in no time....this is not secure this is not security,” Weems said.
The topic of how to enhance safety measures has been top of mind for most people since a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school earlier this month.
In response to the shooting, Sheriff Weems said he wants to put a barricade lock on every door. The door remains open, but a separate piece that be kept in a teacher's desk slides into the lock to instantly barricade the doors.
“ We are talking about maybe a second to install and a second to remove,” Weems said. “If the shooter tried to penetrate the lock ,this device could save 20 to 25 children like that."
The sheriff shared his plan in a letter to the community asking for funds to get one of those instant barricade locks for every Perry County Schools classroom. He and his wife Rosanna put in the first $500.
The response has been astonishing, raising nearly $10,000 in donations in a little over a week.
“We've had so many people say I don't have kids but I want to protect a door,” Rosanna Weems said. "Most of our checks are $125 even because they want to protect one school room."
The local fire chief also loves the idea.
“Times change, and you have to realize these barricades are a good idea. It takes no time to enable them or disable them. 50 years ago no one knew what active shooter meant. We need fire codes to match the times,” said
Perry County Director of Schools Eric Lomax also loves the idea. He would let the sheriff install them tomorrow, but the state fire marshal has told him not to. The state fire marshal is not on board and has promised to stop the barricade project.
“He said he wouldn’t allow it," Lomax said. "That he could fine me and maybe even padlock the school. The school attorney said I could event be arrested. We need to get the public behind this. Hopefully this interview will change some minds."
This news about the state fire marshal's response infuriated Sheriff Weems.
“I’m not talking about a constant barricade of a door," Weems said. "I am talking about in the event of an active shooter, we need to be able to act and forget a code. I am saving lives here."
Fox 17 News Reporter Dennis Ferrier went straight to the state fire marshal's office for answers.
“We care about safety in schools, but we are worried some of these barricades are too difficult to operate," Spokesman Kevin Walters said.
Walters said they do have some ideas on how to increase school security that they are willing to share.
“There is wiggle room in the code," Walters said. "We do have some devices we approve of, but they need to come off that list."
After our interview, the fire marshal’s office promised to call Perry County Sheriff Nick Weems and work on a solution.
Weems is just $250 short of reaching his fundraising goal of putting a barricade on every classroom in Perry County.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated since publication to clarify the context of Eric Lomax's quote.