Sep 23, 2008

Electrical fire shuts down campus phones, LCA

by Drew Menard

A small electrical fire at Liberty Christian Academy (LCA) sent approximately 1,700 students home early after a full evacuation of the building. The fire knocked out Internet and telephone connections at Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) and Liberty University for four hours. There were no injuries.

The fire resulted from a short in the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) housed in an LCA building. The UPS, a giant computer battery system, overheated causing smoke and flames.

“It was an energized electrical fire,” Major Richard Hinkley of LUPD said. “There were some flames, but mostly there was a lot of smoke.”

A teacher at the Early Learning Center (ELC) smelled smoke while on the playground with her class, according to LCA superintendent Dr. Todd Campo. She then noticed grey clouds creeping through the air from a vent above the UPS housing room. The teacher called to see if there was any work taking place in that area. After being informed that the smoke was indeed abnormal and unexpected, she immediately pulled the fire alarm.

“The evacuation was very efficient,” Lynchburg Fire Marshal Greg Wormser said. “There was good accountability by the staff.”

LCA had recently conducted two routine fire drills, and the shrieking sound of the alarm raised no panic among the students.

“The kids were great. (LCA was) evacuated in one minute (and) 52 seconds, a record for us,” Campo said.

LUPD quickly located the origin of the smoke and cut off power to the UPS. This caused the outage of Internet and telephones.

“Once we cut the power (Lynchburg Firefighters) were able to put out the fire,” Hinkley said.

The Lynchburg Fire Dept. responded hastily to the alarm. The first units located and snuffed out the fire in less than 10 minutes, according to Wormser. Firefighters extinguished the flames using a dry chemical powder and pressurized water cans. Much of the firefighters’ time was spent cleaning up and using fans to dispel the smoke.

While the premises were being cleared, students enjoyed a break from the typical school day. LCA students were housed at the LaHaye Ice Center, where lunch was provided by Sodexho.

“It was great to have Liberty University as a resource and Sodexho who brought in as many box(ed) lunches as we wanted,” Campo said.

Parents were immediately notified of the situation, and within 45 minutes two-thirds of the students had been picked up.

Though he was quite impressed with the response time, Campo did note a few changes he wanted to make in the evacuation policy in order to make it more efficient. One such change would be an automated text message that would be immediately sent out in the event of an emergency to any parent or guardian who asked to be put on the list. This would lower the burden of calling each parent one by one.

“I cannot overemphasize what an awesome job the kids did. They were obedient and the teachers followed protocol,” Campo said. “You never know what could happen. We were grateful no one was hurt.”


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