MONROE, CT — It was only the second day of school when cafeteria staff noticed smoke coming from a commercial oven at Stepney Elementary School Thursday morning. As the kitchen filled with smoke, Armed School Security Officer Mark Caulfield pulled the fire alarm around 10:15 a.m.
“All students evacuated the building and were accounted for by 10:21 a.m.,” Principal Ashley Furnari wrote in a letter to parents later that day. “Students undertook the protocol smoothly and remained calm and attentive to directions.”
“Teachers, staff and police did an outstanding job of quickly evacuating the children from the building and away from the affected area,” said Monroe Fire Chief Kevin Catalano. “The school custodian was also of great assistance shutting power to the oven and monitoring the situation before firefighters arrived.”
“A big thank you to our Head Custodian Rooker Perkins and our Armed School Security Officer Mark Caulfield, who both acted quickly to mitigate the issue in the kitchen and activate the alarm,” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said Friday.
“Rodney Perkins is currently a Stepney Volunteer Fire Department member,” Furnari said. “He was crucial in the containment of the fire.”
Firefighters from the Stepney, Monroe and Stevenson fire companies responded to the fire alarm. The crews quickly extinguished the fire and Furnari said everyone was cleared to return to the building at approximately 10:45 a.m.
Catalano said there was a smoke condition, but the fire did not extend beyond the oven and the smoke was confined to the kitchen.
The Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service also responded to the scene. While driving to the school, the Long Hill and Stevenson firefighters’ responses were canceled en route, according to Catalano.
Fire Marshal William “Bill” Davin determined an electrical issue caused the fire in the kitchen of the school on Old Newtown Road.
School stays in session
“The cafeteria was closed the rest of the day, but students ate in their classroom,” Catalano said.
“We worked closely with our new food service provider, Whitsons, to ensure that all students were able to enjoy lunch in their classrooms today,” Furnari said. “Whitsons used the Masuk cafeteria to prepare hot lunches for students, and will do the same tomorrow.”
Furnari said a new oven has already been purchased and is scheduled to be installed Tuesday morning.
In her letter sent out Thursday, she wrote, “students will eat in the cafeteria tomorrow with the menu remaining unchanged.”
The superintendent and Furnari both praised firefighters and school staff for how they handled the situation.
After the incident, Furnari said classroom teachers told students what had happened and allowed them to ask questions.
“We applaud the efforts of our teachers to make this a learning experience for students, recognizing the social-emotional needs of young children,” she said.
“I would like to commend all staff and students for their patience and cooperation,” Furnari added. “I would also like to thank our Fire Marshal Bill Davin, our food service provider, Whitsons, as well as the members of the Stepney and Monroe firehouses that responded today.”
Kobza said, “I just want to say how appreciative I was of everyone’s collaboration during this situation, starting with Mrs. Furnari, the Monroe and Stepney fire departments, Fire Marshal Bill Davin and all the staff at Stepney Elementary who pitched in to ease any anxieties that the kids had and make sure everybody was safe and accounted for.”
“It was really a team effort to deal with a crisis situation in such a professional manner,” he said. “The response of the staff and the kids was awesome.”
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