Fire Delays Penn Manor High School

By Gabrielle Bauman

Students woke up early this morning hoping for a two-hour weather delay. They got the delay, but it wasn’t for weather.

Teachers arriving early on Thursday would be confronted by the local fire department.

Families across the district received phone calls early this morning alerting them to a three hour delay for high school students, due to a small fire.

Devon Pickel, a Penn Manor junior and junior fire fighter at Blue Rock Fire Rescue, was at the scene from about 6:30 am to 8:00 am. The high school “was full of smoke” said Pickel. According to Pickel, the firefighters moved fans around the building, opening all the windows and doors to classrooms in order to ventilate the building.

At approximately 11:30-12:00 p.m. Wednesday night, a member of the custodial staff placed several wet rags in a clothes dryer and set it to run, common practice for the district. However, according to Philip Gale, Penn Manor High School’s principal, the dryer malfunctioned. A 30-40 minute cycle turned into several hours, and when the smoke spread, the school’s security system sent an alarm to the fire company at about 5:15 a.m. Thursday.

At around 6 a.m., a three-hour delay was issued in order to make sure the building could be properly ventilated of all smoke. The families of district students began receiving phone calls at approximately 6:30 a.m. By that time some students were already on their morning bus ride, and as the bus drivers heard the news, they turned around and took the students home.

“I received an email of a two hour delay at 5:58, then a three hour delay at 6:00,” said Michael Fowler, a math teacher at Penn Manor High School. According to Fowler, he arrived at 5:55 a.m. to see “approximately 10 firetrucks.”

No one was harmed by the fire, though the custodian was treated for smoke inhalation.

School started at 10:40 a.m. with a shortened, rearranged schedule. At approximately 11:55 a.m. students received another surprise when the fire alarm went off.

“The alarm company was clearing the alarm,” said Gale, and at that point the school administration made the decision to evacuate the building. There was potential for some alarms to sound in areas of the building with more smoke debris, and rather than cause confusion it was decided to have a fire drill instead.

“We’ll just use that as the November fire drill,” said Gale, “It’s good that today wasn’t too cold.”

As of now, there has been no property damage due to the actual fire, but the district has contracted a restoration company to assess the extent of the soot from the fire. The high school will be closed on Friday, November 9 so that workers from the restoration company can have full access to the building to begin the cleaning process. The time will be used to address any soot and excess smoke still inside the building. District officials expect the complete process to take several weeks.

The custodian who set the dryer was treated for smoke inhalation, and according to Gale, “he seems to be fine.”

Students are scheduled to return to school as usual on Monday.

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