Marin Fire Marshall deems classroom string lights fire hazards


Leonardo Olivotti

Diana Goldberg teaches her fourth period English class underneath string lights hanging from the ceiling.

On Dec. 19, 2022, the Marin Fire Marshal conducted the annual Fire and Life Safety Inspection at Archie Williams. The annual inspection ensures the safety of the buildings on campus by examining their construction, fire protection systems, and operational features that provide safety from fire and smoke during emergencies. 

Once the report is released, the Archie Williams administration works to replace the fire hazards.

“When we receive the reports, we work to address any concerns or violations that were noted as quickly as possible. Some of the time, this requires help from the District’s Maintenance and Operations teams, while other times, we can work with our custodial team and teaching staff to make corrections,” said Kaki McLachlan, Archie Williams assistant principal.

One of the most concerning problems the Fire Inspector identified is string lights, which are considered a potential fire hazard. However, string lights are routinely used by several Archie Williams teachers and by the Wellness staff. Archie Williams’ English teacher Diana Goldberg says that she values the importance of a comfortable classroom environment that illuminates calm lighting.

Diana Goldberg’s classroom often has string lights that hang from the ceiling. (Leonardo Olivotti)

“Making sure that the classroom is a really welcoming and warm space is really important,” Goldberg said. “But with that said, usually, I have to use my own funds to be able to decorate a classroom, but over the years, I’ve started to build up materials” 

While the exact reason why string lights are a fire hazard is not disclosed in the report, Wellness outreach specialist, Danya Axelrad-Hausman, suspects the bulbs themselves could be a hazard. 

“I could imagine the heat of the bulb being a threat if it was near fabric or something. But it hadn’t ever crossed my mind that string lights were a [fire] threat,” Axelrad-Hausman said.

String lights are a very simple engineering concept, electricity goes through a loop in a closed circuit, passes a filament, and creates light. This process can cause the bulb to heat up very quickly. Although unlikely, the bulb has the potential to start a fire.

Archie Williams’ teachers are struggling to find alternate sources of light. Many want to switch to LED lights but don’t know if they are safer than string lights. 

“I was just doing research on different types of alternative lighting because for me personally, I think the overhead lights are a little bit too harsh and almost feel like hospital lights. I’m always looking for ways to make the classroom just a more soft kind of welcoming environment,” Goldberg said. 

The Marin Fire Marshall’s recent safety inspection has put an end to the use of string lights at Archie Williams.