Cord sparks classroom fire

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    06.22.2007
Category: Finger Lakes


A fire broke out at St. Francis-St. Stephen School at 17 Elmwood Ave. in Geneva during the early morning hours of June 13 after an extension cord overheated in the fourth-grade classroom.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was extinguished before it spread beyond the classroom, according to Geneva Fire Chief Bruce Moore.

Father James Fennessy, parochial vicar at neighboring Our Lady of Peace Parish, was the first to notice the fire and alert the fire department. The parish rectory is located at St. Stephen Church on Pulteney Street and shares a parking lot with the school.

"I was kind of half awake and half asleep, and actually I was saying a prayer for someone who asked for one. I heard a noise outside the window. I looked across and saw a little fire coming out the window, so I called 911 and they were there in a heartbeat," Father Fennessy said.

The noise Father Fennessy heard, which he said sounded like breaking glass, probably was the air conditioner falling out of the second-story window of the burning fourth-grade, Moore said.

Once firefighters arrived on the scene, Moore said they forced their way into the locked school building and had the blaze under control within minutes.

"We knocked (the fire) down with pressurized fire extinguishers," Moore said. "It was really smoky, but it turns out it was a small fire. The call came in at 1:33 (a.m.), and we declared it under control at 1:50."

As a precautionary measure, firefighters also opened up the ceiling to make sure there were no flames or hot spots concealed above it, he added.

Fire officials later determined a faulty or overloaded extension cord had sparked the fire.

"In some of these (extension cords) the wiring is fairly light, so when you use them, they tend to heat up," Moore said.

School officials cancelled classes June 13 and 14, but St. Francis-St. Stephen was expected to be open for the school year's last day of classes June 15, according to Celia McAdoo, the school's secretary and business manager. Students were to attend a closing Mass at St. Stephen Church June 15 before being dismissed at 11 a.m. as scheduled.

The cancelled classes affect only one final exam -- a humanities exam -- McAdoo said, noting that in lieu of giving the test, the humanities teacher planned to use her students' class averages for their final grades.

Workers began "defogging" the school and cleaning up the affected area June 13, and McAdoo said she expected the cleanup work to last for approximately another week.

The cost to repair the damage from the fire was not available at press time June 15.

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