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Lakewood Elementary fire ‘heroes’ honored

Lakewood School District Board of Directors Vice President Ellen Phillips, far left, and President Oscar Escalante, far right, flank “heroes,” from left, Angela Ramirez, Tracy Melton, Justin Bradley, Terri Virdell, Jamie Miller and Dawn Cooper, in the Lakewood High School commons Aug. 20.  - KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times
Lakewood School District Board of Directors Vice President Ellen Phillips, far left, and President Oscar Escalante, far right, flank “heroes,” from left, Angela Ramirez, Tracy Melton, Justin Bradley, Terri Virdell, Jamie Miller and Dawn Cooper, in the Lakewood High School commons Aug. 20.
— image credit: KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times

LAKEWOOD — If they hadn’t risked their lives and thought outside the box, the Lakewood Elementary School building would have been lost.

The five women and three men who fought the July 23 fire at the LES building were celebrated by the Lakewood School District and the Marysville Fire District Aug. 20.

Art Cooper and Jim Venturo were absent, but Angela Ramirez, Tracy Melton, Terri Virdell, Jamie Miller, Dawn Taylor and Justin Bradley were handed plaques and flowers in honor of their “hero” status.

To hear the moms and other community members tell it, though, receiving praise was the last thing on their minds at the time of the emergency.

Lakewood School District Superintendent Dennis Haddock noted that the LES building exterior, and four of its classrooms, suffered approximately $200,000 in damage from the fire. He reported the contractor’s estimate that two of the rooms should be ready for the first day of school Sept. 2, while the other two rooms, which sustained more damage, are scheduled to be completed Sept. 8.

“You think, ‘What would I do?’” said LES Principal Sheila Woods. “What they did was step up to the plate.”

“The consistent comment I heard from firefighters was that they could not believe that this building was not completely consumed by the fire,” said Fred Owyen, executive director of operations for the Lakewood School District. “We can credit the courageous actions of these community members with literally saving the building.”

Marysville Fire District Chief Greg Corn credited the eight “heroes” with ingenious thinking, for breaking LES building windows to retrieve the fire extinguishers within, which they used to fight the fire.

“I don’t think we would have thought of that,” Corn said, before joking, “I hope the school district forgives them for breaking in those windows. This is one time when vandalism was acceptable.”

At the time of the fire, two of the women had been walking laps around the track, while the other three were watching their sons’ football camp. As soon as they spotted smoke coming from the LES building, all five ran toward it.

“That school is a part of my family,” Dawn Taylor said. “It’s a part of our history. I don’t know what made me think to yell that we should break the windows. I’m just bossy by nature,” she laughed.

Jamie Miller hadn’t seen the post-fire interior of the LES building until the slideshow of photos that was presented during the ceremony, and she was shocked by the extent of the damage.

“I thought we did better,” Miller said. “It was pretty emotional for me to see those pictures. I’m glad we were able to keep the fire down.”

Angela Martinez felt nervous and overwhelmed by the ceremony, but she dismissed her response to the fire itself almost casually.

“It’s what everybody else would have done,” Ramirez said. “We just happened to be the ones who ran over there.”

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