A shop teacher at Boardman High School was relieved of his duties on Mar. 17, following a fire in an industrial arts classroom.
The teacher, Michael Powell, was placed on a paid administrative leave following the fire that caused the evacuation of students and staff from the high school.
According to the Mar., 2015 monthly report of Boardman Township Fire Chief Mark Pitzer, Powell “was burning insulation off [electrical] wiring so he could scrap the copper wire inside.”
Supt. Frank Lazzeri said the school district is conducting an internal investigation into the fire. Chief Pitzer said the Boardman Fire Department and Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges in the matter.
“The handling of this case has been placed back in the hands of the school district,” Chief Pitzer said.
There was no reported damage from the fire, but school officials evacuated the building near 2:00 p.m., citing concerns over smoke and possible carbon monoxide in the building.
“Ventilation took place and students were escorted back into the school,” Chief Pitzer said.
Flames from the fire shot some 10-ft. to 15-ft. into the air. However, Powell indicated a ventilation in a welding area was not working properly, and smoke filled much of the high school.
Boardman FD Investigator Lt. Jim McCreary said he found smoke throughout the first and second floors of the high school and it took some 30 minutes “to clear the building of smoke and render the school tenable for students to return.”
McCreary said that seven students were interviewed about the fire, and they all told similar stories. “The students stated they voiced concerns to Powell about starting the fire inside the shop,” McCreary said, noting that Powell responded “there would be no problems.’
McCreary stated that Powell placed about 40 pounds of electrical wiring (mostly extension cords and Christmas ‘twinkle lights’ into a steel bowl [used as a burning pit] and proceeded to use a cutting torch to ignite the wiring.
A video of the event given to investigators, has Powell telling students “Don’t go huffing the smoke boys.”
According to McCreary, “Once the fire started, the students were instructed by Powell to add more wire to the fire. This caused the size of the fire to increase and produce large amounts of smoke,” McCreary said.
The fire was extinguished when Powell placed a large piece of steel over the blaze.
“At no time did any of the students witness Powell use a fire extinguisher...At no time was anyone instructed to pull a fire alarm or sent to notify administration of the fire,” McCreary said.
According to McCreary, Powell said he placed five to ten pounds of wire, mostly extension cords, into a steel vessel and set it on fire using a cutting torch.
Powell said an exhaust fan was turned on, “but he noticed as the smoke began to build, it didn’t appear to be operating properly.”
Powell told investigators he felt he could get the fire under control and that is why he didn’t pull a fire alarm or notify school administration, McCreary said.
Powell also said he had started a fire in the shop ‘for the same reason’ on one other occasion, “after school hours and there were no students present.”