Southside fire puts school officials on high alert

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The garage fire was located directly across from Lincoln Elementary School.

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photos

Glendive firefighters (L to R) Eriq Hernandez, Brett Stinnett and Aaron O’Dell fight fire that engulfed a garage located on Valentine Street Wednesday afternoon.

A structure fire near Lincoln Elementary School on Wednesday prompted school officials to work quickly to make sure students and staff were safe.

A garage fire directly across from Lincoln School on Valentine Street was reported Wednesday afternoon around 1:30 p.m.

Fire Chief Russell Feisthamel was at the city’s ambulance barn when the call came in and was able to respond immediately, only to discover the garage fully engulfed in flames.

The proximity of the fire to the school caused immediate concern for school officials.

While firefighters worked to contain the fire, Glendive Superintendent of Schools Stephen Schreibeis said school officials’ first concern was to make sure students were safe.

During a report to the Glendive Unified School Board Wednesday night, Schreibeis said emergency responders onsite assured Lincoln administrators that there was no risk to the school.

“They assured me again that everything was safe for everyone,” he said.

However, students and staff located on the north side of the building closest to the fire were evacuated to the school’s gymnasium.

There was a point that school officials made the decision to evacuate everyone, even though they felt confident the situation was safe.

“Our first responders are

amazing. ... You had so

many people there making sure everything was safe,”

Stephen Schreibeis,

Glendive Superintendent

School officials felt the fire provided an opportunity to practice procedure for parent reunification, something that would require walking the students to the EPEC.

“Why not practice it? It was already chaotic,” Schreibeis said.

After one of the staff members pointed out that the subway tunnel that is part of the path for the evacuation could be full of water with the recent snowmelt, it was decided to abandon the plan to put the reunification procedure in place.

Determining a plan to deal with student pickup for buses and parents was the next focus.

Three of the four streets were open to traffic, although the normal pickup routes were changed.

Feisthamel noted that the trucks and fire presented major challenges for school pickup, but after he spoke with Schreibeis and a plan was put in place, everything went well.

Schreibeis said school staff members stepped up in a big way to make sure that students were taken care of and that the after school pickup process went smoothly.

Lincoln Principal Roxie Quick said that the school staff reacted in a way that made the process of dealing with a chaotic situation run smoothly.

“Everybody just kind of intuitively knew what to do,” she said.

The incident served as an opportunity for school officials to determine procedures that are needed and to test out some that are already in place, Schreibeis said at the board meeting.

He said he was able to test out the notification system using his cell phone, which was the first time he was able to do that with an incident of this magnitude.

“Our first responders are amazing. I’ve always known that but they did an amazing job of blocking out the street, doing what they need to. ... You had so many people there making sure everything was safe. It just made me feel really good about the town that we live in,” he said.

Garage, vehicles lost

As for the actual fire, the garage was a total loss as were two vehicles: one located inside the garage and another next to the garage. A hot tub was also lost, Feisthamel said.

But firefighters did an excellent job preventing further damage, as the garage was located very close to another garage and to a home. Neither was damaged, Feisthamel noted.

A homemade wood-burning stove in the garage is likely to blame for the incident.

Fourteen firemen with four trucks responded to the fire, along with the Glendive Ambulance Service and local law enforcement officers.

Busy week

for the department

The Glendive Fire Department responded to two other calls this week, both for potential gas leaks.

Feisthamel said his department has a number of those calls, particularly during cold weather. On occasion the department’s full-time firefighter on duty responds before the entire department is paged out.

The smell resulting in the call on Tuesday on Taylor Avenue was found to be a work pickup that contained items that smelled like natural gas.

On Thursday morning, the department responded to a natural gas page on the corner of Sargent Avenue and Bell Street. Firefighters canvassed the area and were released once MDU official arrived.

Reach Jamie Ausk Crisafulli at