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Fire caught before it spread out of Waynesville Middle School art room
Fire caught before it spread out of Waynesville Middle School art room

Waynesville firefighters point out the damage to Superintendent Judene Blackburn through a broken window of the art classroom.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (March 11, 2010) — Superintendent Judene Blackburn had a simple message for Andy Anderson, one of her school board members and custodians: “You saved our building!”

Anderson happened to be in the right place at the right time Wednesday evening when a passing motorist noticed flames coming through the window of a room at Waynesville Middle School and called 911. That 911 call resulted in firefighters being dispatched to the scene, but before they arrived, Anderson had successfully used a fire extinguisher to stop the blaze.

Initially reported as being a fire in the gym, the blaze was actually located in an art room in a building in front of the gym, but that wouldn’t be clear from outside the school to someone not familiar with the building layout.

“The whole counter was on fire and the room was full of smoke,” Anderson said.

Anderson isn’t a firefighter but said he learned basic skills of extinguishing blazes from his time in military service.

Waynesville Deputy Fire Chief Andy Baker said his department was notified at 5:22 p.m. that the middle school gym was on fire, and quickly sent 12 firefighters with an engine and a ladder truck; four St. Robert firefighters also responded with an engine. Wayneville police and Pulaski County Ambulance District personnel also responded.

“A passerby was dropping off her child; she saw the fire through the window and called,” Baker said. “It was a good thing the passerby came by when she did or this fire would have taken off very quickly.”

Baker and the fire district’s public information officer, Capt. Mike Shempert, both said the fire alarms weren’t yet sounding when firefighters arrived, but even if they had been sounding, the building has only a local alarm. Waynesville Middle School was built long enough ago that it isn’t required to have a sprinkler system.

“We had hazy smoke in the building and it probably wasn’t enough to set off the alarm,” Shempert said, noting that due to the rapid response, damage was limited to the building and its contents.

Fire investigators traced the blaze to an extension cord that appears to have caught on fire, and cautioned school administrators to avoid using connecting multiple extension cords to each other if possible.

Blackburn said she didn’t anticipate a need to move any classes other than the art class, but Wednesday evening that decisions will wait on a full investigation of what happened.

“I was relieved it wasn’t worse than this,” Blackburn said.

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