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Fire at RHS put response plan to test; outcome good

Feb 19, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Members of the Riverton High School crisis team did not identify much they would change about the building's emergency response process after last week's dryer fire in the equipment storage room.

"Our evacuation was very organized," RHS assistant principal John Griffith said Thursday. "There was a huge number of positives that our kids and staff have to be congratulated for."

No one was injured in the incident, which reportedly started when faulty electrical equipment caused the contents of a dryer to catch fire near the RHS gymnasium at about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 7. The building's fire alarms went off and initiated the evacuation, and although flames never escaped the inside of the dryer, administrators said plumes of smoke filled the school hallways.

"When I entered the building you truly couldn't see down the hallway, it was that heavy of smoke, and there was smoke in the entryway," Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder said during Tuesday's school board meeting.

He commended the RHS custodial staff members who quickly shut down the ventilating units leading to the equipment storage room so the fire wouldn't spread.

"We were very fortunate," Snyder said. "(The fire) could've quickly gone up into the drop ceiling there and spread rapidly, but it didn't."

He said some uniforms and the area surrounding the fire sustained damage, and the dryer will have to be replaced.

"But we were very fortunate," Snyder said. "(The damage) was as minimal as you could've possibly had with something like that."

Crisis team analysis

It was the smoke that led administrators to decide to cancel school for the day. Staff made the announcement to the students, who had evacuated to the nearby James H. Moore Career Center, and Snyder said school bus crews were mobilized quickly to bring people home.

"Drivers were called back to the bus barn, and they were up there in truly minutes of the time we made those phone calls," Snyder said. "They changed their schedules for the day, came up and made that happen."

Teachers made sure to check in with students before allowing them to leave, but Griffith said in the future, employees will be equipped with official evacuation release forms in their emergency preparedness binders.

"That's one of the things that came out of that (crisis team) meeting," Griffith said. "It wasn't an issue, (but) we didn't have a great organized way to do this."

He also plans to identify teams of staff members who will be assigned individual tasks in case of an emergency.

"We have a lot of staff who are counselors or social workers or aid staff who aren't directly responsible for kids," Griffith said. "They were very open and helpful (last week), but they didn't have a specific job in a situation like that. So we'll look at forming those teams depending on what the drill is or the emergency is."

Otherwise, he said, the crisis team -- which consists of counselors, principals and student support directors --thought the evacuation went well. Parents were notified of the situation and updates were posted online for anyone to see. A handful of students had to be reprimanded for misbehaving, but in general Griffith said the group of about 750 teenagers followed directions and acted appropriately.

"We were very proud of our staff and students for how they performed," Griffith said. "They were absolutely fantastic. (With) all the drills we're doing, it really goes to show we're well prepared."

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