By Mahgul Mansoor and Maria Sawiris
On Wednesday, April 17th, the entire student body and faculty were evacuated from the building. At first it seemed like an unplanned fire drill, but it turned out to be caused by a real fire.
During 4th period, the fire bells went off. Many students and teachers expected an announcement to be made urging everyone to remain in class while the fire bells were being investigated. Instead, they were told to evacuate the school in an orderly manner.
Many students unsure of whether they would be returning or not, took their belongs with them, while others left them behind.
Shortly after the school was emptied by the routine procedure practiced during drills, ambulances, fire engines, police cars, and news helicopters arrived at the scene.
Students stayed outside the building for approximately an hour. Many students contacted their parents or guardians about the situation. Some went home in the middle of the chaos, and others chose to sit down on the sidewalk and wait.
Students returned to 4th period and the rest of the day followed an abbreviated schedule. Students who had classes on the 6th floor were instructed to report to the auditorium until after 5th period, when the area was deemed safe. For the time being, the staircases and hallways leading up to the east side of the were roped off.
According to Concetta Licitra, Physical Education teacher and Dean, the fire originated in the wall of the 6th floor boys bathroom. “By wall I mean that one of the stalls of the bathroom had a vent that could be opened. Inside the vent someone had stuffed toilet paper. So when the student threw a cigarette in the vent the toilet paper caught on fire. Students claimed that it was accidental.”
At first custodians tried putting out the fire with their own equipment and once it was deemed uncontrollable, the fire alarms were triggered to evacuate the building.
School safety made sure the building was empty. After they “swept the floors”, they radioed in to each other.
The 6th floor east side experienced significant damage. The wall of the stall in the bathroom was torn down and the plaster had to be taken down in order to put out the fire. In total, the fire created several thousands of dollars in damage.
Fire marshals conducted an investigation, exploring the possibility of arson. After two class periods, the culprit was apprehended.
According to Licitra, “The student received a superintendent suspension and is not allowed to return to the school. A hearing will take place and a hearing officer will decide the duration of the suspension.”
Licitra also expressed her concern with the incident, “I am very angry. It was a big inconvenience, the student should have known better, especially since he has a history of getting in trouble.”
According to Michael Topchishvili ’13, “It was surprisingly organized, everyone stepped out pretty quickly. I was hoping not to return to the school but we did. Nobody got hurt. I thought it was very reckless of the guy who did it, a lot of people could have been hurt.”
Vasul Antoshchuk ’15 said, “A few people were angry because they thought they were missing their lunch period but we returned to the same period. A few of them even went home; they called their parents and got permission to come home. I think they should have officially let the kids leave early instead of shortening the schedule because it would have alleviated the concern for the parents. Overall it was done in a very orderly manner.”
The frequent and unannounced fire drills have evidently prepared students well for a real emergency.
Zeynep Kilik ’14 said, “While I was being evacuated from the building I wasn’t really thinking about mortal peril or anything like that. The only thing on my mind was getting out of that school as quickly as I could. When I saw the fire trucks and the ambulances I reacted the same way any normal high schooler would. I took out my phone and posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook. I think these fire related incidents are really stupid, why would you want to endanger over 5,000 people?”