SYRACUSE — Turkey Creek Fire Chief Mickey Scott provided further details about the early morning fire at the Lakeland Learning Center Thursday, Aug. 31.
“We received the dispatch call at 7:36 a.m.,” he said. The department arrived at Lakeland one minute later.
“We got the fire under control within 15 minutes. We cut a hole in the southwest corner of the roof and ran a positive pressure fan at the front door to provide vertical ventilation for the heat and smoke.
“We contained the fire mainly to the hallway where the electrical fire started,” said Scott.
Scott noted “a lot of heat and smoke damage in the hall and front office area,” but said, “there is only minor damage to the classrooms.”
He estimated the damage at $80,000, “but that is purely a guess,” he admitted.
The four fire departments responding to the emergency call — Turkey Creek, Benton Township, North Webster and Milford — cleared the scene at 11:50 a.m.
A Lakeland staff member called 911 when she noticed fire coming from a hallway overhead light fixture.
In the building at the time were 16 children, aged 6 weeks to 5 years, and five staff members. All evacuated safely out the west entrance and waited along the perimeter fence of the playground for Police Chief Jim Layne to escort them to St. Andrew’s United Methodist about 300 yards north of the Lakeland facility.
“To me the staff were the heroes here,” said Scott. “We have worked with them before with routine fire drills. We want them to evacuate to the west because we know we are coming in the front door on the east.
“They did exactly what we instructed them to do and that was a huge advantage to us.”
Scott also commended the staff for closing all the interior doors before leaving the building.
“When the alarm goes off, the children know to immediately line up at the door,” said Rhonda Urick, assistant director. “This is part of our regular training and we conduct regular drills.”
“In all our years, since 1973, we have never had to use our emergency plan,” said Lakeland board member Ann Van Dyke.
Nevertheless, “they got the children to the church like a well-oiled machine,” according to a sheriff’s deputy on the scene.
Members of the Syracuse Police Department and Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department were on hand to assist the staff and children.
Urick lauded the first responders’ actions. “The first detective was here within three minutes of the 911 call.” she said.
Turkey Creek was the first fire department on the scene.
“How quick those fire employees got here was amazing,” said Urick.
The center typically serves 35 children a day. Parents who arrived to drop off their children after the event were turned away.
McDonald’s of Syracuse donated 60 breakfast sandwiches for the children, staff and first responders. The food was delivered by the American Red Cross.
Lakeland will remain closed until “the board and director meet to decide when to reopen the building,” said Urick.