A smoke condition at a Dyker Heights school on Friday, January 26 left a classroom full of students suffering from light smoke inhalation. However, both administrators and local officials say the incident could have been much worse.
“I was on my way into the office when I got a text that said there was a report of a fire on the fourth floor of William McKinley Junior High School,” recalled John Quaglione, an aide to State Senator Marty Golden. “I said, ‘I’ll just go over there and check it out.’”
When he got to the school, located at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway, he found that it had self-evacuated after the incident, which drew a bevy of fire trucks, ambulances and cop cars – but, luckily, there were no flames.
“My first instinct was to look up at the building and, thankfully, there were no flames raging out of any of the windows, which was reassuring, but the response was incredible so I knew it was more than a false alarm,” said Quaglione, a parent to public school children and the husband of an assistant principal.
A false alarm it certainly wasn’t, said longtime principal of the school Janice Geary, who confirmed that the cause of the smoke condition was leftover debris, specifically a container of adhesive from the previous day’s construction left atop a radiator unit inside the building.
According to the FDNY, the call came in at around 10:21 a.m. and there were just over 30 patients – nine of whom were sent to Maimonides Medical Center out of extra precaution due to difficulty breathing. The others were triaged at the scene.
“The city’s response was absolutely incredible,” said Geary. “The students received medical attention right there on the spot. Then, it was back to business as usual at the building.”
Quaglione, offering similar kudos to the first responders, also shone a light on Geary for her leadership amongst the chaos.
“Hats off to Janice Geary and her administration who, for many years, has run a great school. She’s a real true building leader,” he told this paper. “When you think about it, there’s [a lot of people in that school, even more when] you include staff. In 10 seconds, that school went into emergency mode, an evacuation plan was made, it was followed to a t, and the children and staff cooperated. It was just an awesome job all around.”
Geary – McKinley’s principal for close to 15 years – credited staff. “We’re an experienced administrative team,” she said, adding, “In my 14 years here, I’ve had floods, I’ve had this, I’ve had that – I’ve seen it all.”
According to Geary, all affected students – even those sent out for secondary treatment – were released by 3 p.m. that afternoon.
A number of students were temporarily based across the street at St. Ephrem School until the FDNY gave the all clear to re-enter the building.