May 20, 2019
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Firefighter injured when John Bapst high school ceiling collapses

BANGOR, Maine — A firefighter was injured Wednesday morning while fire crews battled a blaze at John Bapst Memorial High School caused by a maintenance worker using a torch to melt ice on the roof of the iconic building on Broadway.

Bangor firefighter John York was hurt when a portion of ceiling fell on him inside the building as he worked to extinguish the flames.

The fire at the school was reported shortly after 11 a.m., and York was injured at about 11:30 a.m. Witnesses saw firefighters carrying a gurney down from the second floor balcony where York had been working.

Bangor Fire Chief Tom Higgins said the injured firefighter was conscious and alert when he was taken from the building.

York was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center and was released about 4:15 p.m., a hospital spokesman said.

The fire broke out near the back of the building, in the roof above the left-side balcony in the school’s auditorium, according to Higgins. The roof juts out below the windows to the school’s third-floor biology laboratories.

The fire started when a member of the school’s maintenance staff used a propane torch to melt snow and ice off that portion of the roof, Sgt. Tim York of the state fire marshal’s office said Wednesday afternoon.

The fire was “clearly accidental,” said York, who did not release the worker’s name and is not related to the injured firefighter.

John York was working under that section of roof inside the building when he was injured, Higgins said.

“They’ve done a lot of cutting and digging, and there’s some concern about more collapses inside because of the way the fire burned inside,” the chief added.

At least eight engines from several towns and multiple ambulances went to the school. One ladder truck managed to maneuver into a narrow parking lot behind the school, giving crews close access to the roof that was burning.

Crews had the fire under control about 1 p.m. and began pulling their equipment out of the building.

School officials had few details about their plan moving forward. However, Principal David Armistead said Wednesday night that classes are slated to resume on Monday. Crews already are at work on cleanup and repair.

School was not in session Wednesday because of February vacation, and no students were in the building. About a dozen school staff were working and evacuated the building safely after the fire alarms went off, according to Armistead. Those employees were allowed back into the building at about 1 p.m. to collect their belongings, Higgins said.

Armistead said school officials were trying to determine the extent of the damage and what would need to be done in order for school to resume on time next week. They have not yet determined the cost of the damage.

There likely is water damage to the area around the auditorium and the level below, which includes the gym. Firefighters had to tear down portions of the ceiling to get to the blaze. The high school building opened in 1928.

Members of the school board and some administrators were at the building discussing their next steps.

Higgins said the response could have been much more complicated had school been in session. More than 500 students would have had to evacuate and find places to keep warm. Firetrucks would have struggled to get near the building if more cars had been parked along Broadway or in the school’s rear parking area.

Traffic was shut down on Broadway in the vicinity of the school, and police were asking people to avoid the area.

York is president of the Professional Bangor Firefighters union, International Association of Firefighters Local 772.

Bangor firefighters, city officials and others were posting well-wishes on York’s Facebook page within a couple hours of his injury.

“Thinking of you brother,” one Bangor firefighter said in a post.

“So glad you’re okay!” another friend said in a post.


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