Kent Island High School

A 16-year-old Stevensville boy has been charged with arson in connection with Wednesday's fire at Kent Island High School.

Students were evacuated from Kent Island High School Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 26, when someone apparently set fire to paper towels in a boys bathroom.

The fire alarm sounded at 2:05 p.m., and the school resource officer called for help. "Students and staff followed emergency procedures and exited the building in a safe and timely manner," according to a note to parents from Principal John Schrecongost.

When firefighters entered the boys bathroom on the first floor by the bus loop, they found the sprinkler head nearest the fire had activated and put the fire mostly out, said Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department First Assistant Chief Tracy Schulz.

"We had it under control right after we arrived," Schulz said. "The sprinkler contained it to the area of origin. The main problem was smoke in the building - and the water."

Responders included about 25 people from KIVFD, Grasonville Volunteer Fire Department and a county paramedic unit, Schulz said.

Four of the volunteers responding were Kent Island High School students doing work-study at KIVFD, Schulz said, so the students got to respond to an incident at their own school.

Firefighters made sure the fire was out, ventilated the building and helped clean up the water in the bathroom with the assistance of custodial staff.

"Everybody did what they were supposed to do, and nobody got hurt - that's always a good thing," Schulz said.

He said the state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire. No report from the fire marshal was available at press time.

Jeff Straight, public information officer for Queen Anne's County Public Schools, said it appeared someone had set fire to paper towels, which then caught the dispenser on fire.

Dismissal time for the high school is 2:30 p.m., and buses arrived as firefighters were still working in the building.

School officials decided to dismiss students from outdoors directly to the buses, Straight said. Dismissal was delayed by about 15 minutes, but most of the time was made up between routes and there wasn't a huge ripple effect, he added.

At 3:10 p.m., with permission from the fire marshal and the sheriff's office, students who had driven to school were allowed to enter the building to get their car keys, Straight said.

After-school activities were canceled and the building closed until Thursday morning. Students may retrieve personal items after the 7:45 a.m. bell, Schrecongost said.

Schulz said he found it disturbing that the school's fire alarm system does not activate 911; it only notifies the people in the building.

It delays response time, he said, adding the school's responsibility is getting everyone out of the building; officials shouldn't have to worry about calling 911; emergency services should automatically be on the way.

He called the system "antiquated" and asked what if something happened at night when there was no one there to hear the alarm.

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