A problem with the fire alarm system at Hawthorne Elementary School forced an evacuation of students at about 11 a.m. on Aug. 30. Classes were back in session on Sept. 3, the next scheduled day of school.
There was no danger to any of the students, and the school was evacuated as a precautionary measure, said Jeremy Kenner, Emergency Medical Technician administrator for Mineral County.
The glitch that forced the evacuation was discovered during one of the school’s monthly fire drills, said Stephanie Keuhey, HES principal.
“We came out for a fire drill to test the fire suppression system, and it is not functioning,” Kenner said. “So I have chosen to remove all the kids from school until its fixed.”
Students were moved from their evacuation sites to the Carol Munger Multipurpose room while they waited for parents to pick them up, or for teachers and volunteers to notify parents children on the bus would be coming home early.
“We had the fire department come out for our monthly fire drill, which is required under [Nevada Revised Statutes],” she said. “When they tested the alarms, they didn’t go off, so they went back to check the master box, and found out that there were some error codes.”
Keuhey said the school called the company that maintains the alarm system and discovered the problem couldn’t be solved without a technician working on the physical system. Neither firefighters nor the Mineral County School District maintenance staff had the skills to fix the system, so a technician had to be sent from Reno, Keuhey said.
“So the fire department made the call to shut the school down, in the best interest of safety for our students,” Keuhey said. “The firefighters stayed on school grounds with us until we evacuated all the students and staff.”
Keuhey said the evacuation took about an hour and 15 minutes.
“I actually thought it was a very smooth evacuation,” she said. “It worked out really well. The hardest part is contacting the parents. We want to make sure we get a hold of all parents or family members before sending [the students] home.”
Keuhey said a few parents were angry about the situation, but most took the news in stride. A few even volunteered to help man the phones in the office to notify other parents.
“Our staff did an exceptional job,” she said. “It was an unknown circumstance. Our students and staff were wonderful. They remained calm, they quickly evacuated the students out. Everybody stepped up and pitched in.”
One of the factors slowing the evacuation was the number of phone lines at the school, Keuhey said. She said the district is looking into buying a computer dialing system that could have notified parents of the evacuation more quickly, and during the next evacuation teachers will be on the phone faster, but there wasn’t much else that could have gone better.
“We’re set up pretty good,” she said. “We have a good evacuation system set up, and it was fortunate that we had the firefighters here today to help.”
The fire suppression system at HES is controlled by a central panel. That panel didn’t recognize any activity, Kenner said.
“I cannot allow any kid to be in jeopardy,” he said.