Sprinkler system failed, Iqaluit fire chief says

Arson ruled out in Joamie School fire



About 100 people gathered beside the charred remains of Joamie School in an emotional tribute on July 13.

The 14-year-old building burned to the ground July 4. No one was injured. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

What’s known at this point is that a safe and supportive haven for about 200 students is gone.

Members of the department of education, Iqaluit District Education Authority, staff and parents were meeting this week to decide where displaced staff and students will go this fall.

Meanwhile, fire officials continue with their investigation.

Iqaluit Fire Chief Cory Chegwyn said only two of the 100 sprinkler heads in the school worked that day.

“If a sprinkler system is properly [activated], we arrive to a fire that’s already out. That’s not what happened here,” Chegwyn said.

He declined to comment further on the sprinkler system while the investigation is ongoing.

Firefighters were called to the scene just after 5 a.m. An hour later the fire, which apparently started in the middle of the school, was “well developed” and spreading, Chegwyn said.

Firefighters abandoned the gym when the floor became unstable. Moments later, the floor collapsed. The crew moved to the opposite end of the building where they worked in whiteout conditions from the smoke, Chegwyn said.

When crew members radioed to say the heat was forcing them to the floor, Chegwyn told them to vacate the smoking building.

“It’s an accomplishment that none of the firefighters got hurt. They were wearing 65 to 100 pounds of equipment, constantly moving in extreme heat for about four hours and then cleaning up for another six hours. Most of them weren’t done until 7:30 p.m.,” he said.

Two airport fire trucks were called in to fight the blaze. However, the school was engulfed in flames by 10:30 a.m. The water was shut off at the city’s recommendation.

“At that point it made no difference,” Chegwyn said.

Responding to criticism that his 22 firefighters, most of them volunteers, could have done more to save the school, Chegwyn stood by his crew.

“Nobody likes to lose but we definitely lost this one. It was no fault of the firefighters. We did not fail. We did everything we could with the information we had,” Chegwyn said.

Fire Marshal Gerald Pickett said arson has been ruled out.

He said the school’s sprinkler system is one of several contributing factors being looked at.

However, Pickett referred further inquires to Nino Wischenewski, communications director for the Government of Nunavut’s department of external and intergovernmental affairs.

“This is a serious matter that deserves serious attention,” Wischenewski said, cautioning against speculation.

“It would be irresponsible to start responding until we have all the facts,” he said.

A report is expected to be complete in the next month.

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