MATT LEADER/Special to the County News
Livonia Central School Superintendent, in blue, surveys fire damage to the roof of Livonia Elementary School following an extensive fire Thursday.
Livonia Elementary School
Officials report on firefighting efforts and damage
A fire apparently caused by a construction crew’s malfunctioning generator broke out on the roof of the Livonia Elementary School shortly at 10:58 a.m. Thursday morning, July 5.
Fifteen workmen were on the roof, which is being replaced as a district capital project. The generator was somehow responsible for setting ablaze volatile materials and barrels and buckets of chemicals stored nearby.
Newly-installed foam insulation was also rapidly ignited as the flames spread over a large section of the roof surface.
The emergency was instantly called in by workmen, but the fire had made swift and steady progress in the three-to-four minute period before help arrived.
The blaze brought forth a massive amount of dark smoke and soot and eventually covered much of the surface of the roof of the Elementary School’s middle, north wing. The fire was over the top of 12 fourth and fifth grade classrooms on the south end of the wing. Four or five of the classrooms were damaged severely, but firefighters stopped the flames before they could spread further down the wing and into the heart of the building.
Livonia Fire Chief John Ellis reports that strategically placed hose lines protected the gym, library and computer labs and their valuable contents.
“First we did an interior attack with hand lines inside and on the edge of the roof. Instead of pushing the fire in, we pushed it out,” Ellis reported. “And then, when we got our water supply established and could put up the master streams, we extinguished the fire on the roof.”
For the most part, the classrooms suffered little flame or heat damage. The 12 classrooms did all experience smoke and water damage, and in two cases, drop-down damage where the fire had penetrated through the ceiling.
“Crews were able to go inside and pull down the ceiling tile and extinguish those fires,” Ellis said.
Vacuums were used to take up water on the gym floor. (Unfortunately, the gym floor has sustained water damage to the extent where it probably will need replacing, Superintendent Bischoping reported on Tuesday.)
The library and computer labs experienced no smoke, water or heat damage of any kind. Closing the gymnasium fire doors provided an effective barrier to the heat and smoke. Since these rooms are up a ramp, at a higher elevation than the classrooms, gravity protected the floors, keeping water from flowing in.
The fire was under control within the first hour and fully extinguished within two hours, Ellis noted.
Ellis credits Second Assistant Chief Brad Austin with being first commander at the scene, and former fire officer Paul Teed — who works at Briggs Tire — with initially sizing up the fire from a distance and having the foresight to alert Emergency Dispatch 911 to call in Geneseo and East Avon departments.
“I credit my members for getting the first do-lines in, holding the fire in check, and doing an awesome job,” Ellis said.
During the fire, with winds blowing to the southeast, the town-wide emergency response plan was activated. Residents in the vicinity — particularly in the Shelly Road-Cadyville Road neighborhood — were alerted by the Livingston County Department of Health to the hazardous, airborne smoke and fumes, and made ready to evacuate in the event the air content became unsafe.
Once the fire was under control but not yet extinguished, County Fire Coordinator Tom Pearson was sent to Hampton Corners to bring over one of the Haz-mat trucks. At Hampton Corners, ten miles from the scene of the fire, he reported the rising column of smoke was still clearly visible.
All told, 16 fire departments and seven outside agencies were involved in the emergency. Besides Livonia, the assisting departments were Lakeville, Hemlock, Conesus, Richmond out of Honeoye, Naples, Bristol, Lima, Honeoye Falls, Avon, East Avon, Geneseo, Rush, Caledonia with added Mumford members, and Henrietta. Agencies included the County Sheriff, Department of Health, NYS DEC, County Water Authority (which monitored and reported excellent hydrant flows throughout the emergency), and County Haz-mat.
Four counties were involved in the emergency through contribution of services: Livingston, Monroe, Ontario and Steuben. The latter county contributed a Wayland-based special FAST (Firefighter Assistance Survival Team) who remained present in the event firefighters were in need of rescuing. (East Avon and Livonia also have FASTs, but those members were involved in the actual firefighting.)
After the fire was extinguished, the scene reverted to a hazardous materials de-contamination call “because of the chemicals that had burnt and the solutions on the roof,” Ellis explained. Hoses and other equipment had to be cleaned of hazardous chemical residues. Crews were sent out to pick up soot, ash, cinders and other fallout debris which had accumulated throughout and beyond school grounds during the course of the blaze. A second and completely thorough clean-up then took place Friday morning.
Two school district employees who were in the classrooms directly under the roof when the fire broke out escaped without injury. One roof worker was transported to the hospital as a precautionary measure for smoke inhalation. There were no other injuries among any of the other workmen, the approximate 150 emergency personnel and the nearly 100 spectators.
Actual cause of the generator malefaction is still being determined. As many as four insurers may be involved in the damage claims.
Superintendent charts recovery
In a Tuesday interview, Superintendent Scott Bischoping reported that the administration will be working with architects, contractors and insurance adjusters to determine the extent of the fire damages and put together a timetable for restoring the roof and classrooms. Plans will be reviewed at the school board meeting of July 23.
In the immediate wake of the fire, Bischoping advised that “the first goal is to make the building safe and the second is to begin the clean-up process.”
A main concern is getting the roof structurally safe enough so the workers are able to pull up and remove the residual burnt material — then installing a cover so the classrooms are not exposed to rain and weather, Bischoping noted.
The district will attempt to get the classrooms and gymnasium repaired and back into use as soon as possible. Restoration of the airflow systems may pose the greatest challenge to meeting a September deadline — or at least a mid-October date when heating must be operative.
“If the lead times are too long on getting replacement equipment, then we won’t be able to open in September,” Bischoping advised.
Non-porous furnishings in the classrooms — most notably desks and chairs — will not need replacement. However, books and other materials susceptible to water damage have succumbed and will need to be replaced.
Of the damaged classrooms, five or six, with their contents, have been badly damage by water and smoke.
“We’ll know within the next couple of weeks if we’re going to have the ability to get the clean-up and repair work done in time,” Bischoping stated.
“We’ll do this the safe way and the right way,” Bischoping said. “If that can happen by the start of the school year, we’ll do that. If it can’t happen, we have the luxury of a backup building [the recently closed Middle School] that others might not have.”