Westwood fire

Classes suspended at Westwood High after blaze damages school

BY HORACE HINES
Observer West reporter

Thursday, May 04, 2017

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STEWART TOWN, Trelawny -Classes at the Westwood High School for Girls in Stewart Town were suspended indefinitely yesterday following a fire Tuesday night, which razed a section of the prominent boarding school. The flames, which were confined to the kitchen and dining areas, destroyed furniture and heavy-duty appliances.

“We have lost the kitchen and the dining area; one of the dining rooms have been totally lost. Heavy-duty equipment that was in the kitchen and furniture were also lost,” Principal of Westwood High Karen Francis told reporters yesterday.

According to Francis, boarders from the upper school at Westwood High, one of the country's top-performing traditional high school, which presently boast a student population of 776 who were slated to sit external examinations starting on Monday, have been asked to return on Sunday as a result of the fire.

“The first written paper will be on Monday. We will have the senior girls come back to school on Sunday. We will house them in their dormitories, but we will probably have to do meals at the hostel for them,” said Francis.

“We will not be able to facilitate all of the students now and the (school) board will meet... short-term plans will be put in place for the rest of the school. We would have advised the Ministry [of Education] already as to what happened and we will also take advice from them.”

Noting that boarders who were due to go home on Friday were sent home yesterday, Francis argued that education officers will be engaged to decide when classes resume for the entire school.

John Taylor, the plant supervisor at Westwood who resides a short distance off campus, said immediately after hearing the bell ringing twice outside of its “normal time” and noticing the campus was in darkness, he summoned the fire department.

He said he hurried to the school where he disconnected the gasoline lines from the cylinder outside, adding that with the help of the staff members, he started to put out the then “small fire” in the kitchen area.

He added, however, that the flames spread swiftly throughout the wooden structure.

Antonio Robinson, assistant superintendent of the Jamaica Fire Brigde and acting divisional head for the parish of Trelawny, said 24 firefighter using four units, two each from Trelawny and St Ann, battled the blaze for nearly two hours after responding to call from the school at about 10:16 pm. Up to late yesterday, however, he could not provide any details on what triggered the fire nor an estimate of the damage. He said investigation to ascertain such information is underway.

Meanwhile, Taylor lauded the firefighters for containing the blaze.

Meanwhile, Francis expressed relief that none of the girls were hurt. She noted that those who were housed at a dormitory near to the kitchen evacuated immediately after the bell was rung, warning of the danger, in conformation with the fire drill exercises they have been exposed to.

“The girls evacuated immediately without any belongings, went to the auditorium and were counted off to ensure no one was missing,” she said.

“We would have done fire drills with the girls so they knew how to respond.”

Baptist Minister Rev W M Webb established Westwood High in 1882. More than 50 per cent of the students who attend the school are boarders.

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