BANGOR, Maine — Students at half a dozen schools around the city were told to drop their pencils on Wednesday morning and leave their schools when fire alarms began to ring.
There was no fire, only a drop in water pressure in the sprinkler system that occurred because of a massive water leak on Stillwater Avenue.
Alarms were activated at Fruit Street School, James F. Doughty School, Mary Snow School and Vine Street School, along with Rangeley Hall on the Eastern Maine Community College campus, Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Cyr said on Wednesday. Sudden pressure changes in the water system can trigger fire alarms, a Ban-gor Water District official said later in the day.
“Everybody was evacuated,” Cyr said. “Once we made a de-termination that it was a [wa-ter] surge, everybody was al-lowed back in the building.”
Warning bells also went off at several businesses, including Burlington Coat Factory, the CareerCenter, Shaw’s on Springer Drive, the L.L. Bean outlet store and every store in the Bangor Mall, Cyr said.
Betsy Webb, superintendent of schools, said having the emergency alarms go off at the schools proved better than a fire drill because they were not planned and demonstrate the effectiveness of the school de-partment’s emergency response plan.
“It went smoothly,” she said. “Children were accounted for and brought right back into the building. Fortunately, it was not a major emergency. It did verify, for us, [that] our fire evacuation plans are more than effective.”
The children were outside between 10 and 15 minutes, she said.
The first fire alarm call was received at 11:13 a.m. Wednes-day and the last was given to firefighters at 11:26 a.m.
“It was a lot of calls in a very short period of time,” Cyr said. “We knew there was something up almost immediately. Engine 5 just happen to be at Shaw’s getting their lunch” when the store’s alarm sounded.
A corroded fire hydrant valve broke off, allowing water to escape a 16-inch water main located in front of the VIP at 911 Stillwater Ave., Kathy Mori-arty, Bangor Water District general manager, said.
“We had to shut down a por-tion of Stillwater Avenue, be-tween Hogan Road and Gilman Road” to fix the valve, leaving customers in that area without water and creating the drop in pressure, she said.
“It’s one of our larger pipes,” Moriarty said. “I am guessing that … the drop in pressure caused those [fire alarms] to go off.”
The problem valve was fixed Wednesday afternoon and the water turned back on, she said.