A 15-year-old student has been identified for igniting a fire on Friday, Oct. 22 at Carrboro High School.
Carrboro Fire Chief David Schmidt said the fire was suspicious because it was traced to a trash can in a bathroom stall where there was no heat source. The Carrboro Police Department worked to investigate the cause, which led them to identify the student.
At around 2:50 p.m. on Friday, suspicious smoke and haze coming from the bathroom led Assistant Principal Luke Paulsen to pull the fire alarm before the temperature was hot enough to automatically trigger the system or sprinklers. Following the alarm, the evacuation system was put in place and students immediately exited the building, preventing any injuries from occurring.
“He pulled the fire alarm manually, which was an outstanding move,” Schmidt said about Paulsen pulling the alarm. “It gave them that additional time to evacuate the building.”
The Carrboro Fire Rescue Department responded to the call at 3 p.m. and arrived on the scene by 3:04 p.m. with two command officers, 19 firefighters, five engines and one ladder truck. Schmidt said that when the Fire Department arrived, they were instructed to use the front entrance of the school to reach the source of the fire in the bathroom.
When the engines arrived and firefighters entered with tools and extinguishers, they saw water coming out of the bathroom door. They opened the door to confirm that the fire had been put out by the sprinkler system. The Fire Department then worked to turn off the sprinkler system, remove smoke and aid the custodians in cleaning up the water. According to the press release, the damages are estimated to be $5,000.
As of Thursday, Oct. 28, Captain Anthony Westbrook of the Carrboro Police Department said that a petition has been filed with Juvenile Justice within the NC Department of Public Safety after conducting an investigation and reaching a conclusion about the case. He said the police department cannot release any further information because of the age of the juvenile.
Andy Jenks, the chief communications officer for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said that the fact the fire occurred around dismissal hour caused additional complications.
He said they had to communicate with the community after the school was evacuated and coordinate alternate arrangements for how students would leave school property. They used an automated email and call system to stay in touch with parents and guardians. Jenks said putting out official information as it was happening was important to the school as the situation was evolving.
“It worked precisely according to plan,” Schmidt said, in reference to the evacuation. He added that this fire reinforces the importance of fire safety, evacuations and alarm testing.
Schmidt also said that the incident emphasizes the necessity of having sprinkler systems. He said that there are many combustibles in the bathroom that would have caused smoke damage if the sprinkler system had not released water before the fire department arrived on the scene.
Jenks said that no students were physically hurt, and that trusted adults such as teachers and counselors at the school are available if students are experiencing any trauma from the incident. He is not aware of any student experiencing mental effects from the incident at this time.
“We are very glad that our students and our staff remembered their training, and we are very grateful that nobody was hurt,” Jenks said. “The safety of our students and staff is always going to be the highest priority.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.