Classes had not yet begun Thursday when Neshannock elementary students were ushered out of the school.
Both the elementary and high schools were evacuated shortly before 8:30 when smoke tripped the fire alarms in the elementary school.
Trucks from four fire departments, including Neshannock, reported to the school, ultimately determining that a light ballast in an elementary hallway had overheated and was having an electrical meltdown.
The elementary and high schools are adjoined.
Students, teachers, other employees and administrators stood outside for about 90 minutes while firefighters inspected the buildings to ensure it was safe.
No injuries were reported and there was no fire.
“I was in the cafeteria with the kids and we had to get them all out,” said Regina Manos, a fifth- and sixth-grade para-educator.
Some of the students already had gone to sixth-grade tutoring, she said, adding all of the fire alarms sounded.
“Some of the little ones got scared because they didn’t know what was going on. They were used to fire drills.”
But after they were outside, they played games and socialized while sitting on the sidewalks.
Some of the students were loaded onto buses to wait until the school was cleared.
Several parents who had driven their children to school pulled into neighboring driveways to let the firetrucks through and wait to see what was happening.
The school’s emergency plan worked effectively, superintendent Dr. Mary S. Todora reported.
The firefighters went room-to-room using lasers to determine if there was a fire.
She confirmed the problem had been pinpointed to a hallway between the fifth- and sixth-grade wings.
“It caused enough smoke to make the fire alarm go off,” Todora said, estimating the alarms triggered around 8:10 a.m.
She noted that when the fire alarms go off, they also sound at the Neshannock Township fire station.
Elementary students, who normally get breakfast, went without it for awhile, but were fed when they went back inside, Todora said. The rest of the school day was to operate on a shortened schedule.
“We kicked in our crisis plan, and we were complimented on it by the fire department, which was nice,” she said.
The school administrators immediately activated the phone messaging system, which called every parent in the district to alert them to what was happening.
All the teachers and administrators followed a protocol, Todora explained. The administrators had walkie-talkies and school-assigned cell phones, and assistant superintendent Dr. Kathleen Roppa was the “go-to” person for the emergency responders.
Todora fielded calls from the media and parents and contacted school board members.
The teachers, who also received messaging on their cell phones, were given periodic updates by Todora.