Fire Frenzy

Fire+Frenzy

Upper School student-advisor conferences were cut short on Wednesday, Feb. 3 when everyone on campus evacuated the school’s buildings. A fire erupted shortly before 1 p.m., according to school officials.

Technical Director and Auditorium Manager Robert Kallos and sophomore Caroline Hogg were meeting in portable seven when they noticed the ceiling glowing red and the portable filling with smoke. Immediately after detecting these signs, Kallos sounded the fire alarm.

Director of Communications Susan Brower along with other members of the administration and security team responded to the situation. “The fire alarm sounded, which triggered a direct response by the Dallas Fire Department who arrived on campus within two to three minutes,” Brower said. During this time, all students in Forms I, II and III were meeting with both their parents and advisors to schedule classes for the 2016-2017 school year.

Sophomore Neha Dronamraju and her mother, Nanditha Dronamraju, were in a conference with Mass Communications Department Chair Ana Rosenthal in the publications suite when the intercom announced for a schoolwide evacuation.

“I thought it was just a drill, as is usually the case, nine times out of 10,” Nanditha Dronamraju said.

The Dronamrajus and Rosenthal evacuated with the rest of the occupants in the LLARC and the science building to the parking lot facing Forest Lane where they were asked to maintain a certain distance from the building. Students in Lower and Middle School as well as administration evacuated to the fields near Lower School.

The administration decided to close the classrooms in the main building due to the large amount of smoke.

All boarders were evacuated to the parking lot behind the infirmary offices.

Sophomore and boarder Grace Zhang remembers her dorm mom, Jayne Shackelford, barging into her room.

“At first I thought it was a drill, but [Director of Inclusion and Community Tresa] Wilson shouted that it was not,” Zhang said. “Then I got really worried as to where the fire was because I didn’t want my room to burn down.”

The evacuation for boarders lasted approximately 15 minutes.

Shortly thereafter, however, Director of Housekeeping Carolyn Hoke notified the boarding department of a second evacuation, followed by a third.

The multiple evacuations in the dorms occurred because Hockaday is transitioning to a new alarm system. Thus, there are occasional issues with the coding and communication between the old system and new one that may have caused the alarm to go off multiple times.

According to Zhang, each of the evacuations spanned from 10 to 30 minutes.

The fire affected the portable, which houses Kallos’ office and serves as a theater storage space. Kallos shares this portable with Upper School studio art teacher Emily Howard.

According to CFO JT Coats, the fire resulted from an electrical malfunction and started in the ceiling above the light fixture. The fire damaged the ceiling; however, other damage was caused as well.

“The Fire Department also had to inflict some structural damage to the portable,” Coats said.

Because the fire sprinklers went off within the portable when Kallos sounded the fire alarm, Coats expects most of the items in the portable to be ruined. Things that may not have been directly affected by the water from the sprinklers may also have experienced smoke damage.

“We are hoping to salvage some things but it is very uncertain at this point how much,” Coats said.

Classes resumed the next day as scheduled, and art classes are now held in portable eight instead. Portable seven was fenced off with caution yellow tape and is currently not accessible. Coats is waiting on an official report from the City of Dallas Fire Department.

More immediate cautionary measures are under way in response to this incident. According to Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Blair Lowry, the other portables are under investigation to ensure they are safe. Another fire system test that had been pre-planned before this incident is scheduled for Winter Break.

To see pictures of the fire go to hockadayfourcast.org.