Fire on elementary school roof Friday handled quickly

Alert reporting and quick response led to minimal damage and no injuries from a fire on the roof of the Lovell Elementary School last Friday.

Lovell Fire Chief Mike Jameson was on the way from his home to Haskell Funeral Home, which he owns and operates, Friday afternoon when he noticed smoke coming from the area of the school as he drove north on Shoshone Avenue. As he got closer, he realized the smoke was coming from the roof of the school. He headed to the school.

Lovell volunteer fireman Levi Miller hands the fire hose to Brandon Jolley atop the roof of the Lovell Elementary School as they prepare to extinguish the fire that had started with cleaning rags during a roofing project Friday afternoon.
David Peck photo

Counselor Brian May emerged from the front doors as Jameson pulled up, and Jameson asked if roofers were at work. May said he didn’t think so, and that he had just heard about the smoke himself and was going outside to check the situation.

According to May and Principal Deanna Martineau, fifth-grade student Nevaeh Walker had spotted the smoke first and alerted paraprofessional Mara Rasmussen. May said Rasmussen told him what the student said, and he went outside to assess the situation, encountering Jameson at that moment.

“There was a bunch of black smoke rolling off of there when I pulled up,” Jameson said.

Jameson asked May to pull the school fire alarm, which he did, and the chief called dispatch to report the fire. According to Assistant Chief Bob Mangus, the Lovell Volunteer Fire Dept. was dispatched at 2:09 p.m.

Mangus said a roofing company was preparing to put a skylight in just above the school office area earlier in the week and had left a plenum (frame) on the roof near where the skylight would go, with a bucket of glue inside the plenum and a bucket of cleaner nearby. Roofers had been cleaning the plenum in preparation for installation, Mangus said, and rags with cleaning chemicals in them had been left on and around the bucket inside the plenum.

Lovell fireman and elementary school teacher Chris Edwards congratulates fifth-grade student Nevaeh Walker during a National Fire Prevention Week assembly Wednesday for alerting an adult last Friday that she saw smoke coming from the roof of the elementary school.
David Peck photo

Martineau said the reflective lining on the interior of the plenum may have magnified the sun’s rays on the warm afternoon, and eventually the rags caught on fire, what Mangus called a spontaneous combustion. About a two foot by two foot square had burned through the membrane roof and was just starting to burn the sheeting on the roof when firemen arrived and quickly extinguished the blaze. 

Meanwhile, students and staff cleared the building below. Martineau said it was a professional development Friday afternoon for teachers, but there were also about 30 students in the building for Extended Day (Friday Pup Club) and Friday School – for students doing “catch-up work,” plus around 35 staff members.

With Martineau out of town and the office staff attending a training, May, school nurse Meredith Despain and School Resource Officer Brad McConnell took charge of the situation as students responded to the alarm and left the building as they had been trained in fire drills. Most exited through the doors to the playground, and the students gathered on the field just beyond the playground.

“The kids handled it great,” May said. “They were calm. They saw the smoke, too, but they stayed in the field.”

Before long, May said, he and Despain decided to send the kids home, and Extended Day workers were told to alert parents. Firemen went through the building and declared the building safe, so teachers were told they could either leave or stay to finish their work, Martineau said. She said she heard reports of a “pungent smell” in the building, and May said that, while there was no smoke, “you could tell something had been burning.”

When it was all said and done, the damage to the roof was minimal, Martineau said, and the roofing company quickly repaired the hole in the roof. She added that the response to the emergency by students and staff was spot on.

“Everyone did exactly that they needed to do (to evacuate the building),” she said, noting that the staff followed recently changed district protocol for verification of a fire.

Firemen cleared the scene at 2:42 p.m., Mangus said.

By David Peck