Smoke causes fire scare in first week of school

Shawnee Mission South students had their first experience with an emergency procedure this year, and it wasn't a drill.



Raiders sat in their classrooms when it began to smell of smoke. Teachers nor students knew why, but no one looked very concerned. Slowly, the rooms began to look hazy. Secretary Diane Johnson came on the intercom to tell everyone not to worry and that though the fire alarm would go off, everyone should remain where they were because there was no danger.

“Everyone had their shirts over their face, and they wouldn’t let us leave,” junior Julian Duff said. He was in English teacher Joe Cline’s classroom when the smoke began to enter the school. “It smelled like my nose was inside of a smoke bomb.”

Minutes after the announcement that urged students to stay calm, the fire alarm went off, and everyone stayed where they were. Suddenly, Diane was back on the intercom: “This is not a drill, everyone must evacuate.”

Students began to frantically leave their classrooms, unsure of where to go, having not covered fire drill procedures by the third day of the school year. As everyone made their way outside, a fire truck pulled up with firefighters quickly heading into the school.

“I was sitting in class, and it smelled like somebody was burning a candle. I looked around, and everybody else was looking around. We all got confused for ten minutes, and then the fire alarm went off,” junior William Cooper said. “I left my stuff inside, and I’m not worried.”

After about 15 minutes of waiting in the parking lot for an ‘all clear’, administration and faculty began to instead corral students towards the west wing of the school. Students filed into the bleachers of the main gymnasium as if it were an assembly.

Once settled, athletic director John Johnson quickly grabbed a microphone to address the uncertain situation.

After some time of awaiting the verdict, John took the microphone again, to say that firefighters turned on ventilators and were still working on clearing smoke in the building.

However, the mood was far from melancholy. John went from athletic director to DJ in seconds playing his 1970’s disco music. As “ABC” by The Jackson 5 came through the gym speakers, students began to sing and dance in the bleachers. During this time, head coaches of fall sports were called down for a meeting to discuss practice and try out plans.

The music was soon interrupted by a phone call for J. Johnson, and he came back on the microphone.

“If you drove to school or walked to school, I’m going to let you release right now…to go back and get your stuff,” John said. “Go quietly and calmly.”

Bus riders remained in the gymnasiums, and did not end up leaving until just after 1:15 p.m.

Fall sports practices were still held at 3:00 p.m. However, students who could not make it due to a ride issue would not be penalized, specifically for sports with try-outs still going on. Some coaches, like cheer coach Jackie Turner, chose to cancel practices altogether.

Parents received a phone call from the school saying that during routine work on the roof, smoke was smelt in some parts of the building, and students were evacuated and later released. Official statements were released after school from principal Todd Dain explaining the situation and making parents and students aware that school would still be proceeding the next day, as well as an adjusted schedule for classes students had missed due to the release.

There were no reported injuries or issues related to the fire, and students are back to their day to day business as if the incident had never happened.

Update: title was changed due to misleading message on August 17, 2018 at 12:46 p.m.