Officials: Fire drills saved daycare lives

March 28, 2008 6:39:56 PM PDT
Investigators suspect a welder's torch set off the devastating fire in the rear of the building. The flames were first reported around 2:45 p.m. in the 6800 block of Old York Road.

Firefighters responded in only four minutes to an automatic fire alarm, but by then the blaze had turn into a raging two-alarm inferno into the home that housed the Little Kingdom Land Daycare.

"It was quite chaotic and quite stressful for a lot of people. Obviously, parents came running up crying, wondering if their kids were safe and sound," said Bruce Hawkins.

Authorities are praising a carefully thought out and often practiced fire drill with saving the lives of staff and children here.

Daycare operator Jamaliah Johnson said when the smoke alarms went off, she and her staff quickly carried out the fire drill, which they had often practiced.

That drill meant evacuating and accounting for all 25 toddlers and pre-schoolers as well as all staff members.

They took them to Hawkins Funeral Parlor across the street.

"I decided to bring them in the funeral home so they could be warm. They didn't have jackets. They didn't have clothes. Some of them came out barefooted," said Hawkins.

Officials believe the carefully thought out plan made the difference here. No one was injured in the fire that destroyed the three-story home.

"Because they practiced that, when you have an actual event, you're prepared. They know exactly what to do, so the children don't panic. They were prepared here. They had a working alarm system. The alarm gave them advanced notice," said Lt. Michael Grant.

The building, which Jamella Johnson says her mom bought by hocking a ring for $500, may be demolished.

Regardless, she asked any parent who might need daycare assistance on Tuesday to contact them and they'll meet their needs.