Birches Academy Evacuated due to Gas Leak

February 20, 2015

submitted by Dael Angelico-Hart, Birches Academy of Academics & Art

On Feb. 10, a little after noon, a chunk of falling ice hit a gas pipe and created a leak behind 419 South Broadway, home of a number of retail establishments and The Birches Academy Charter School.  The Birches’ neighbors, White Street Paint, who were the first to know, immediately thought to notify the school so they could immediately evacuate 193 children into the ice and slush that remained after the last snowstorm.  The snow on the streets was still so significant that all of Salem, including The Birches, had had a 90-minute delay of school that morning.

As the school took attendance in the parking lot, the Salem Fire and Police departments arrived in force and took immediate charge of the safety of the students.  To get the students as far away from the gas leak as fast as possible, they stopped all traffic on Route 28 so that that students and school personnel could cross over to the soon-to-be-opened Toyota and Honda dealership across the street from the school.

After crossing Route 28, the administration of The Birches called both First Student, the bus company that serves Salem students and Superintendent Mike Delahanty.  Both responded immediately by coming to the aid of their neighboring charter school.  First Student immediately sent a fleet of buses and the police department let them through the closed traffic to the Birches students.  The superintendent opened the doors of Salem High School to shelter the Birches’ students.  No one who participated in this evacuation will ever forget one of the firefighters who picked up a first grader, still in his slippers from school, which he had changed into from his boots this snowy morning, and carried him over the icy puddles on the street to the safety and warmth of the First Student buses.

When the children arrived at the high school, Superintendent Delahanty was there to personally greet everyone along with Tracy Collyer, principal of staff of Salem High School, who immediately mobilized her staff.  They provided the comfort of their auditorium and clipboards and tables to check the students as the parents began to arrive.  The Birches’ staff and students shared their space for the next three hours while every need was fulfilled, including snacks bought from vending machines at 3:30 to feed the teachers who had not eaten all day.

So many people have been victims of this terrible winter weather and The Birches Academy on this day was no exception.  But the response of the neighbors in the plaza, the Salem Police and Fire departments, First Student bus company and the leadership and staff of SAU 57 was truly extraordinary.  The Birches staff and grateful parents would like to thank all of the friends and neighbors who reached out and turned a potential horrendous situation into an opportunity to experience the generosity of the Salem community.