BUCKHANNON – A malfunctioning hot water tank at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School caught fire Wednesday morning, forcing a short evacuation of students to Chapel Hill United Methodist Church. The Buckhannon Fire Department was called out at about 10:30 a.m., according to Linn Baxa, a career firefighter with the department.
“Their hot water heater had an electrical malfunction and the heater itself was on fire,” he said. “It was contained to the utility room.”
Baxa said the fire was already out when firefighters arrived on scene and they isolated the area and make sure the electric was off to the heater.
“We kept the smoke contained to that area so the kids could get back to class quicker,” he said.
The firefighters remained on scene about 30 minutes.
School officials have praised the school for following the emergency procedures in place. Jodie Akers, director of student services, said the hot water tank was located in a closet in the kitchen.
“It began to smoke and the cooks noticed the smoke which prompted them to pull the fire alarm which is standard procedure,” she said. “In the meantime, custodian James Sayre was quick to respond and disconnected the power to the hot water heater.”
One parent, Lisa Boone, expressed her concerns to The Record Delta over the amount of information that was relayed due to one of her children having asthma and that the school would not provide more information when she arrived to pick up her children.
“They have the information showing my son has asthma and it’s not safe for him to be in a building like that,” she said. “I understand the fire was put out but there is still smoke damage.”
According to school officials, a Parent Link call was issued after the students were evacuated.
The message said, “This is Jodie Akers with Upshur County Schools. We have evacuated Buckhannon Academy. We have taken students to Chapel Hill due to smoke in the kitchen. This situation has been resolved and students will be transported back to Buckhannon Academy. Thank you.”
Akers said the first priority was the safety of everyone involved.
“Our main concern is the safety of the students and staff,” she said. “We had to make sure that situation was going smoothly before we put that call out.”
But Akers said she understands that as a parent, their number one concern is their child.
And that’s what is the concern of the school system – the students and the staff at the school.
“I would like to commend the staff at BAES,” she said. “I have heard so many positive things about our students about how they responded and how they were at the evacuation site.”
The evacuation and the return to school was over in about an hour.
Boone expressed concern that the children had to walk to the church without coats, but Akers said that when the fire alarm goes off the students and staff evacuate immediately.
“We have to think of the safety of our students and our staff,” she said. “We don’t have time to go to lockers. They followed all the procedures.”
The mass exodus to Chapel Hill UMC is part of an overall safety plan in place for Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.
At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, the board of education approved a reunification agreement with Chapel Hill UMC for emergencies just like Wednesday, according to Stankus.
The superintendent also said that the drills that BAES does helped them prepare for Wednesday. She also praised the students and staff at the largest elementary school in the county. The 2017-2018 student enrollment was 547 with about 60 faculty and staff.
“When that fire alarm goes off, you have to evacuate,” she said. “That’s everyone.”
Stankus also recognized Sayre, the first responders and Chapel Hill UMC for their response and support.