Classroom Fire Disrupts HHS End of Year Schedule


Jennifer Eagan from WCVB TV.

The charred remains of Mr. Wooley's cabinet illustrate where the fire began.

On Friday, May 17, several Hingham residents woke to the sound of helicopters. Only a few hours earlier, at approximately 5 a.m., a 20 year old VCR in History Teacher Mr. Wooly’s classroom shorted out and caught flame, spreading to the wooden shelving that encased it, and causing havoc in the school. Although the two-alarm fire quickly spread across the classroom, it was put out by Hingham Firefighters. The school day was cancelled, and word of the event ignited around town.

When asked about the VCR, Mr. Wooly said, “I haven’t used it in years” and that he “was terribly surprised and shocked about how the fire started.”

The Harborlight interviewed Hingham High School Principal Richard Swanson to help understand the key events of the fire and his opinions about the reopening of the school. When Mr. Swanson arrived at the school at 5:45a.m. to play a game of pickup basketball with other staff, a regular activity for his Friday mornings, he discovered fire trucks outside and smoke billowing from the roof.

Mr. Swanson immediately called school off and remained updated on the clean up process over the weekend in order to determine how the school would be affected. The administration had a meeting on Sunday to try to solve the scheduling horror that lay in front of them, since a good portion of a wing of the school was not usable.

After creating an acceptable solution, the group worked hard in the rooms affected by the fire by removing students’ items from lockers and doing their best to reopen most of the downstairs English hallway, which was also affected by water and smoke damage. Thankfully, no one was in the building at the time of the fire so no one was injured or killed.

The extensive smoke damage would displace over 19 classrooms and many classes. The affected classrooms and hallways were air sealed and blocked, which included the end of the English hallway on the first floor, the entirety of the history hallway, and the administrative offices at the Pleasant Street entrance.

The displaced classrooms would cause for crammed, makeshift classes and crowded hallways throughout the rest of the year. Luckily, the last day of high school for seniors was scheduled to be Tuesday, May 21, which was moved to the Monday before in order to prevent crowds. This provided an opportunity for some of the displaced classes to move into open classrooms as well.

There was a further complication on Monday. After hours of work by firefighters to remove much of the smoke from the burned areas, the gas company failed to arrive on time to reconnect the gas and water line. Early in the morning, school officials realized that both the gas and the water lines had not been hooked back up, and administration decided to call for a delayed start to the school day. However, a miscommunication about the status of school led some teachers to tell arriving students that school had been cancelled. Some students arrived around 9:20 on Monday morning. Since no one was allowed in the school while the gas company worked on the lines, many were misinformed that classes had been cancelled and left.

The head of the math department at Hingham High School, Dave Jewett, gathered students around and told them that school was canceled because of unseen complications in the gas line testing. Mr. Swanson admitted this was a miscommunication of the many different messages staff were given by either other staffers, firefighters, and town officials.

According the reporter The Harborlight had on the scene, all students who could get home left the school immediately. However, both students and parents were confused by the lack of communication from Mr. Swanson. Twenty minutes later, Principal Swanson sent out an email to the entire HHS community that detailed and clarified that school was still on, and a “field day” would occur on the sports fields while they waited for the building to be deemed safe for entry.

Students and teachers were allowed back in the building around 11am. A compressed schedule was enacted, and most class periods were shortened to 20 minutes. An official classroom relocation for Monday and Tuesday was posted around the school, which was followed by a permanent replacement schedule on Wednesday.

Although students and faculty have adjusted to the classroom relocations, the reconstruction around the school will continue into the summer in the affected classrooms. The estimated end of the repairs is before school starts next year.

Mr. Swanson concluded that he would like to commend all those affected by the disruption for having an open mind and friendly attitudes during the stressful times.