Toaster oven fire triggers school evacuation

DOVER — A small fire in a toaster oven in a teacher’s lounge led to a busy Monday morning for the staff and 900 or so fifth- and sixth-grade students enrolled at William Henry Middle School.

The students were evacuated from William Henry, located at 65 Carver Road in west Dover, to nearby Booker T. Washington Elementary School at around 8:55 a.m.
William Henry Principal Toriano Giddens said the building was evacuated just to make sure everything was safe.

“Although the fire was extinguished by the reporting teacher, the smoke alarms went off and the Dover Fire Department was called,” Mr. Giddens said. “We evacuated because we wanted to ensure that there was nothing going on electrically behind the walls.

“I was not comfortable leaving the students in the building until we received clearance from the fire professionals at Dover (Fire Department). We always have to be proactive and use common sense.”

The entire incident lasted around 30 minutes and the William Henry students were in the rain for about five or six minutes as they stood under a canopy in front of their school before going over to Booker T. Washington, according to Mr. Giddens.

Paige Morgan, acting principal at Booker T. Washington, said everything went according to the Capital School District’s evacuation plan.

“All of our schools have emergency plans that are in place in the event of evacuation or other circumstance,” she said. “These plans are shared with the staff so that everyone is informed and prepared.

“During (Monday’s) evacuation from William Henry, there was communication from both schools to facilitate the transition in order to ensure that students could enter quickly and safely. The students and staff from William Henry entered the school and remained in our auxiliary gym. This lasted for about 20 minutes.”

Mr. Giddens offered no apologies for the steps William Henry elected to take in the aftermath of the toaster oven fire, as minor an incident as it might have turned out to be. He said it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“I would rather call parents to say that your child was in the rain for a few minutes due to a fire evacuation as opposed to calling and saying that a child has been injured by fire because I made a judgement call without consulting the experts,” he said.

Beth Glidden Andersen, a parent of a William Henry student, was appreciative of the precautions the school took.

“I was dropping off my son when the alarm went off,” Ms. Andersen wrote on the Capital School District’s Facebook page. “I have to say, I am so impressed at the speed and efficiency with which the staff evacuated the building. It was orderly and swift.

“I also appreciate that the principal sent out a robo-call to families after all was clear.”

Mr. Giddens tipped his hat to everyone involved in Monday’s unexpected wake-up fire call.

“I am extremely proud of our students, staff members, our district office personnel that showed up and our school resource officer,” said Mr. Giddens. “They all knew that it wasn’t a drill and they handled it well.

“I thanked them all via our (public address) system and told them that (Monday) is why we practice fire drills.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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