Richmond Fire Department, RPS release timelines of Fox Elementary fire response

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 4:11 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2022 at 11:15 AM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond firefighter is being treated for an injury related to the William Fox Elementary School fire that happened on Friday night.

The Richmond Fire Investigations Unit continues to investigate the cause and origin of the fire. While information is still being gathered, officials say they have found no reason to suspect arson.

Here is a timeline of the fire department’s response to the fire:

Friday, Feb. 11

  • At approximately 9:29 p.m. - Crews respond after getting a call from a passerby who said they could hear an alarm and could see a strobe light.
  • At approximately 9:31 p.m. - Truck 3 arrives and reports no smoke or flames coming from the structure.
  • At approximately 9:33 p.m. - Command reports they cannot get inside and requests that an Richmond Public Schools representative responds
  • At approximately 9:36 p.m. - Battalion Chief 2 arrives and a 360-degree walk around was completed outside the building. Nothing out of the ordinary was reported. RPS is unable to be reached, so officials were trying to reach the Richmond Alarm Company.
  • At approximately 9:39 p.m. - Richmond Alarm Company was unable to make contact with any keyholders. It also reports that no alarms were active on their end.
  • At approximately 9:40 p.m. - Command released Engine 6, keeping Truck 3, Engine 12, and Battalion Chief 2 on scene. Through a window, crews then found an alarm panel in trouble condition. It showed a message described as 2nd class 32 - motion detector. Command then requested the on-duty fire marshal.
  • At approximately 9:41 p.m. - Battalion 2 suggests that Richmond police clear the building
  • At approximately 9:45 p.m. - Crews verified that the alarm panel showed a message about a photodetector on the second floor, classroom 32.
  • At approximately 9:52 p.m. - Engine 12 is able to gain access through the janitorial entrance on the rear of the building. The front door is then opened for the rest of the firefighters. Crews found the main alarm panel that also signaled 32. Neither panel showed fire alarm activation. Crews searched the inside of the entire building twice. No indication of hazards were found. Fire said they also never found room 32. According to RPS, zone 32 represents the interior of the front entry. Officials said thermal imaging cameras were used during the search and nothing out of the ordinary was found. The inside and outside of the building were searched for at least 38 minutes.
  • At approximately 10:09 p.m. - The building was secured and crews returned to service.
  • At approximately 10:35 p.m. - Multiple crews were sent back for the report of the building on fire. At the scene, crews found heavy smoke and flames coming from the top floor above the main entrance, spreading quickly across the top of the structure.
  • At approximately 10:50 p.m. - A second alarm was struck
  • At approximately 11:09 p.m. - Parts of the roof started to collapse and crews were evacuated from the inside. A defensive attack from the outside then started.
  • At approximately 11:13 p.m. - A third alarm was struck.

Saturday, Feb. 12

  • At approximately 2:44 a.m. - The incident was marked under control. Crews stayed at the scene and cycled companies for the next 18+ hours to watch for hotspots and prevent reignition.
  • At approximately 9 p.m. - Crews left the scene. There were no hotspots or signs of smoldering when crews left.

Sunday, Feb. 13

  • At approximately 8:02 a.m. - Crews were called back to the school for the report of smoke coming from the center of the building. Crews determined that debris behind a file cabinet on the third floor was smoldering. Crews shot water aerially to put it out. Overhaul was then conducted.
  • At approximately 9:46 a.m. - The incident was marked under control.
  • At approximately 2:30 p.m. - Fire watch was then given to RPS and is ongoing. RFD said hotspots and smoldering could continue for days following a fire of this magnitude.

“My hope is that through the investigation of how this fire started, we will learn why the fire was not initially detectable,” said Richmond Fire Chief Melvin D. Carter. “I am very proud of the more than 75 men and women of Richmond Fire Department, who responded to the three-alarm Fox Elementary School fire. Their commitment and bravery kept the fire from spreading to nearby homes and businesses without experiencing loss of life or serious injury. We are committed to partnering with Richmond Public Schools and the community to restore normalcy and promote healing.”

RFD and RPS have completed the initial investigation into the events of the fire.

“We are incredibly grateful for the Richmond Fire Department’s heroic efforts to contain the fire Friday night,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “Though our communication breakdown did not impact the outcome of the fire, it’s clear we need to tighten our night security protocols, and have already begun to do so. Safety remains our number one priority and we are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured in this fire.”

RPS released its own timeline of events on Friday, Feb. 11:

  • At approximately 3:30 p.m. - Due to a vacancy in the night security team, there was a gap in coverage from 4-10 p.m. To fill the gap, the RPS Custodial Manager asked an RPS Custodial Supervisor to take the 2-way emergency radio home for monitoring. The radio was not fully monitored during the period nor was the emergency phone line forwarded to the supervisor’s phone.
  • 9:46 p.m. – The custodial manager got a text from saying: “School Page: 2300 Hanover Ave, Fox Elementary fire alarm. RFD responded. Unable to gain entry.” The custodial manager was asleep and did not see the text.
  • 10:42 p.m. – RPS custodial manager gets a second text saying: “Working Fire 2300 Hanover Avenue. Building Fire, Top of the School. E12CMD on TAC6.” The custodial manager was unable to get ahold of the facilities director and chief operating officer and leaves home for the school.
  • 10:49 p.m. – RPS Security Director texts superintendent, RPS chief of staff and facilities director with same information sent to the custodial manager. The security director left home for the school. The superintendent, RPS chief of staff and facilities director were all asleep at the time.
  • 10:56 p.m. – RPS chief academic officer calls superintendent to tell him about the fire. The superintendent leaves home for Fox.
  • 10:58-11:06 p.m. – Chief of staff receives multiple phone calls, wakes up and speaks with the principal on the scene, and calls superintendent.
  • 11:01 p.m. – Superintendent texts school board chair to tell her of the fire.
  • 11:06 p.m. – Chief operating officer calls custodial manager for assessment of the situation.
  • 11:17 p.m. – Superintendent calls school board chair to tell her of the fire. Chair leaves home for Fox.

RPS also said that the fire alarm panels notify the alarm company via phone line. The division said that “Verizon recently changed its operating protocol, requiring all local calls to include the area code (804). The panel had not yet been updated to reflect this change. As a result, the alarm at Fox did not register with Richmond Alarm.”

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