Praise for fire-fighting teacher

A HEADTEACHER today praised a member of his staff for heroically battling a fire in an Ipswich classroom and preventing it from spreading through his school.

A HEADTEACHER today praised a member of his staff for heroically battling a fire in an Ipswich classroom and preventing it from spreading through his school.

Mike Everett, headteacher at Thurleston High School, believes a fire which broke out in an art resource room "could have been a lot worse" if art teacher Phil Whittaker had not single-handedly brought the blaze under control.

"Phil Whittaker took some very quick action," he said.

"He behaved in a very responsible manner."

It is still unclear what caused the fire, which broke out just after 2.30pm yesterday, but firefighters are treating it as suspicious.

The alarm was first raised when a pupil triggered a fire alarm, prompting the evacuation of the school.

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"We evacuated the school very quickly and effectively," Mr Everett said.

"We also located the fire very quickly indeed.

"A pupil set off the fire alarm, we then located where the alarm had been set off and we very quickly went to where the fire was.

"Phil Whittaker took a fire extinguisher from the wall and entered the room."

Mr Whittaker, a senior member of staff at the Defoe Road school, then used the extinguisher to battle the flames, which had spread along a three-foot length of shelving in the classroom.

"As the smoke was building up he went out of the room once he'd got the flames under control," Mr Everett said.

He added: "It wasn't a huge blaze at that stage but it could have been if he didn't get it under control."

Firefighters attended and fully extinguished the fire. Today they are investigating the possibility it was an arson attack.

David Atkinson, assistant divisional officer, said: "We are still investigating the cause and are treating it as suspicious."

He added: "It could have been a lot worse. The school went through its proper evacuation procedure. Everyone was far away from the incident, but a fire in any school is serious."

The school is investigating how the fire began but Mr Everett said there was not a class being held in the resource room at the time.

"It's unclear at the moment (how it started), we're investigating that," he said.

"I really don't know how the fire started.

"There was no reason for students to be in that area."

No students were hurt in the fire and the damage to the room was limited to the shelving. The room was back in use today.

Mr Everett praised the way the evacuation was carried out and the actions of Mr Whittaker and the firefighters.

"It could have been far worse," he said.

"I felt every aspect of the way it was dealt with was absolutely exemplary."

What do you think of the way the blaze was tackled? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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