Blount County fire brings out the best in brave elementary students

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WALLAND (WATE)- Walland Elementary evacuated students and staff Thursday when a brush fire began nearby. Through Sunday that fire had already burned 1,055 acres.

Even though Blount County fire crews say the fire is 75 percent contained, Walland Elementary is still cancelled Monday.

“It was a group decision and it’s probably the safest due that we still have fires burning around our community, that’s where our students are right now… that’s where their homes are located,” said Walland Elementary Principal Kim Sullivan.

Teachers said the students remained calm during the evacuation, many thinking it was another fire drill. It was only when they saw fire trucks and heard sirens that they were concerned.

“Some of them got a little nervous thinking that it was the building we reassured them that it was not the building, it was behind the building. Most were very calm they went outside the building in an orderly manner,” said teacher Saundra Pitt.

Pitt said most of the kids thought it was a drill and was impressed with how well her kindergarten students acted during the evacuation.

Pitt’s colleague, Jerilyn Myers, agreed and said that her students only recognized something was wrong when they went inside early from recess.

“I was out on the playground initially, then we were called back into the building. Then just a few minutes later the fire alarm went off. I knew it wasn’t a drill because my teaching partner and I had noticed just a wisp of smoke when we were on the playground,” said Myers.

Parents were notified immediately, and many students were home within minutes of first being notified.

“My son actually took a trip down to this station a few weeks ago,” said parent Lisa Hannah.

“I explained to him that he probably have met some of the firefighters that are fighting the fires. I know last month they cooked for our kids and families so that makes it more relatable. The kids know the firefighters that are fighting,”

Hannah has three children at Walland Elementary, and also works as a teaching assistant at the school, she said once she knew they were safe on the football field, she knew they would be alright.

Principal Sullivan says she has already sent out feedback forms to faculty and staff to get their feedback on evacuation procedures. She said it’s her goal to learn what worked well and what could be improved if the situation required the same type of action in the future.

Both parents and teachers agree the first steps once students are back in the classroom–let them talk about the experience.

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