Tacoma Public Schools honored Red Hawk Fire & Security technicians who worked to contain a fire at an elementary school until firefighters arrived.

Fire and Security Technicians Battle Fire at Elementary School Until Firefighters Arrive

Tacoma Public Schools honored Red Hawk Fire & Security technicians who worked to contain a fire at an elementary school until firefighters arrived.

Red Hawk Fire & Security was recognized for the courageous actions of its technicians who prevented a potentially catastrophic fire by quickly extinguishing a blaze at a Tacoma, WA elementary school until firefighters could arrive on scene.

The dramatic events unfolded on March 7th while Red Hawk Technician Rick Feese, a Journeyman Electrician and Apprentice Technician Josh Cunningham were doing scheduled maintenance on the fire alarm system at Tacoma’s Whitman Elementary School. Cunningham saw an alarm signal coming into the fire alarm control panel that was not in the area where he and his colleague were working. That’s when he heard a commotion in the hallway and a teacher yelling that there was a fire in the boy’s bathroom. He alerted his coworker and ran toward the source of the smoke.

“I opened the door to the boy’s restroom and could see only a dark wall of smoke,” said Cunningham, who grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher, pulled its pin, then took off his shirt wrapping it around his head to serve as an improvised mask to minimize inhaling the smoke as he crouched down and moved toward the fire.

Feese rushed upstairs to see Cunningham running in the direction of the billowing smoke. Since the fire alarm panel had been placed on bypass for the test, Feese immediately re-enabled the horn, strobes, fan shutdown and door release at the fire alarm panel to alert students and staff of the danger. He also instructed a school staff member to call 911 since, with the fire alarm on test, no emergency signal would have gone to firefighters. Feese then rushed back to the door of the boy’s restroom to help his teammate.

“The quick action of the Red Hawk team and our chief custodian prevented what could have been a tragic outcome,” said Dan Voelpel, spokesman for Tacoma Public Schools. “When someone yells ‘Fire!’ most people run the opposite direction. We are all very thankful that these men took it upon themselves to run toward the fire, work to put it out, alert our students and staff to evacuate the building and call in the professional firefighters. We’re deeply grateful.” 

Red Hawk Service Operations Manager, Dave Hovater, who has been asked to attend the school board meeting honoring his technicians, said both technicians have had training and are familiar with the proper operation of fire extinguishers to contain small fires such as this.

“Our technicians risked their lives on a moment’s notice to quickly douse the blaze to prevent more serious property damage and potential injuries or loss of life. Their education, training and knowledge of sound fire deterrence and life safety practices also meant they had the presence of mind to know the children needed to be evacuated immediately and the fire department notified by phone since the fire alarm was off-line for service,” said Hovater.

Both Cunningham and Feese downplayed the significance of their actions saying they simply contained the fire until firefighters could completely extinguish the blaze.

“We did what we could, but were unable to put the fire out completely. The sprinkler system and our own attempts kept the fire at bay until the fire department could get to the scene,” Cunningham added.

If Red Hawk had not been at the school that day, property damage to the building would have been more widespread and the outcome could have been potentially tragic.

“We are extremely proud of these gentlemen because of their heroic actions and putting their training to work in emergency situations. They personify the qualities we hold dear by making a personal commitment every day to look out for the life safety and security of our customers,” said Red Hawk President and CEO Mike McWilliams.

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