Dumpster fire scorches John Mills School, but won’t delay classes

A Dumpster fire next to John Mills School in Elmwood Park on Saturday night damaged the school’s outside wall and gym floor, but officials say it could have been a lot worse.

Firefighters got a call at 11:39 p.m. Aug. 2 about the fire at John Mills. Captain Kevin Miller of the Elmwood Park Fire Department arrived to find the contents of a Dumpster on fire.

“It was rolling pretty good,” Miller said. “The flames were going up above the roof line.”

The Dumpster, which held trash from a repair project on the school’s roof, was next to the outside wall of the school’s gym. Miller, however, was more concerned with two propane tanks that were next to the Dumpster. The propane tanks also belonged to roofers, who used it to keep liquid roofing material (similar to tar) from coagulating.

“Propane tanks pose a danger,” Miller said. “Once they heat up, a relief valve would have opened. If it did, we could have had a flame 20 feet long coming out of that, like a torch. It could have turned into a whole different ball game.”

The first firefighter off the engine took a hand held hose off the engine and began to spray the propane tanks. Other firefighters used the water cannon on top of the engine to put out the contents of the Dumpster. It was a bit tricky.

“Because [the fire] was in a Dumpster and in the bottom, it posed a problem to completely extinguish it,” Miller said. “We tried to hit the hot spots.”

It took firefighters 20 minutes to get the fire under control. Firefighters from Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Norwood Park, River Grove and Lyons were on the scene.

The Lyons Fire Department brought along brought along huge ventilation fan, large enough to be mounted on its own truck. It’s one of three in northern Illinois. The fan took about 15 minutes to blow smoke out of the school.

“That was the first time we called for it,” Miller said. “The air coming off that, it’s like walking through a hurricane.”

Nevertheless, school is still scheduled to begin Aug. 12 at John Mills as previously scheduled, though the fire will delay the use of the gym, said District 401 Superintendent Kevin Anderson.

“Some windows cracked on the back of the [gym] stage and the offices from the heat generated,” Anderson said. “A couple of windows were broken in. Some water and smoke got in. We’re looking to see if the stage floor and the gym floor will need to have the wood replaced.”

That won’t be known until the wood dries. With students returning to school on Aug. 12, that means gym classes will be held outside for the first week or so of classes.

Some scorching and brick damage occurred near the Dumpster, although it was minimal. Soot got into the window wells that descend to the basement band room; those will need to be cleaned. And the stage curtains, which absorbed a lot of smoke, may need to be replaced.

The district is currently working with its insurance company to figure out total costs and who will pay for repairs. In the meanwhile, Anderson is pleased with whoever called the fire department that night.

“If the flames had been sucked through broken windows, it could have been much worse,” Anderson said.

Firefighters are investigating the cause of the fire, although Miller said they haven’t found anything suspicious.

0 Comments

Do you have the scariest house on the block? Or the cutest kid in costume? Share your Halloween photos with us! Click here to submit them.


Modal