John L. Ory classroom fire ignites quick thinking

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE – Just after 2 p.m. Monday a fire alarm rang out at John L. Ory Magnet School in LaPlace, but this time it was no drill.
According to Principal Teri Noel, when an air conditioning unit in a classroom in the middle school building switched on, it began to smoke, and then flames leapt from the unit, located in the back corner of the classroom near one of two windows.
Noel said she was proud of the composure shown by both her students and staff in the minutes following the alarm.
“Everyone jumped into action,” she said. “Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and did it.”
Following a typical fire drill procedure, the students were all safely evacuated, and no injuries resulted from the small blaze.
Noel also noted that the location of the fire in one of the most remote classrooms in the school aided in a smooth evacuation.
Noel noted that some of the younger students were initially upset when they saw the fire engines outside, but their fears were soon calmed.
St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools Interim Superintendent Herbert Smith also said he thought the students and faculty did a good job in handling the situation.
Further complicating the matter, however, was the timing of the alarm, occurring a little more than an hour before dismissal time.
“With the help of our own crisis team, we immediately made some adjustments,” said Noel. “And (the students) have a free night of no homework.”
Parents were notified of the fire through the district’s EdConnect robocalling system, and both parents and faculty pitched in to help ensure as smooth a dismissal as possible under the circumstances.
After an evening spent reorganizing, the staff at John L. Ory welcomed students back Tuesday morning, although those who have class in the middle school building will have to make do with temporary facilities in the main building for now.
The classroom where the fire started is heavily damaged, with broken windows and heavy black soot covering every surface. Surrounding classrooms also suffered a little water damage and the entire building received smoke damage.
According to LaPlace Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief John Snyder, his department was the first to get on the scene, responding to the fire alarm with four units. He said his firefighter saw the air conditioning unit burning on the outside of the building an immediately took action to extinguish the flames.
“Inside they had a pretty nice fire going in the corner,” he said.
In addition to the four units from the LaPlace VFD, the Reserve VFD sent a ladder truck and the Garyville VFD sent a pumper.
He said the fire was contained within about 15 minutes and fire damage was limited to one classroom.
“The biggest part was getting the smoke out,” he said.