ADA — Sixteen young children and two teachers were finishing a tornado drill inside the First United Methodist Church in Ada early Tuesday afternoon. Then, the fire alarm sounded. Thinking it, too, was a drill, the collection of preschoolers and their teachers walked calmly to their normal meeting spot.It was then as the scent of smoke wafted through the air, the sound of windows cracking and crashing that reality set in for the members of the HHWP Community Action Commission-run Head Start program.“The fire alarm went off. I thought my assistant pulled it, she thought I pulled it. We didn't know, we hadn't had the opportunity to ask,” said Tara Swaney, the Head Start teacher. “We just grabbed our papers and headed out as normal. We could not see smoke but as soon as we got out our emergency exit door we could smell smoke. We thought, ‘Oh, that's strange.'”Once the children and two adults were safely to their meeting location on Main Street, Swaney said she turned around and could not believe her eyes.“I turned completely around, looked at the church and smoke was coming out the front doors and out the top of the steeple,” Swaney said. “Dee's [Nichols] yelling at me at the same time, she's my assistant, she's like, ‘It's for real.'”As the fire raged and began consuming the iconic Ada church, Swaney and Nichols moved the children first to the Ada Public Library. As the heat increased and smoke and burning embers began falling in the neighborhood near the church, the children evacuated the library to a spot on North Johnson Street, where parents met up with their children who hadn't already been picked up at the library, Swaney said.“I don't even really remember a lot of my reaction. I just remember the crying and wondering if he's OK,” said Jessica Short, whose 3-year-old son, Donovan, was at the Head Start program. “He had been hearing sirens for more than half an hour. The folks from the program hadn't gotten to us to call us yet. At that point, someone had called my husband, who is one of our best friends, and said that he had our son, that he was at the library.”It took more confirmation for Short to believe her son had made it out of the inferno unscathed, she said.“I stayed on the phone with my husband and I still didn't believe that my son was OK until he got there. When he got there I heard him say to him, ‘Donovan,' and I heard my son say, ‘Daddy, daddy,'” Short said. “I was just in tears. It's a relief to know they're OK. The teachers were amazing to get 16 kids, 16 3- and 4-year-olds out of that building that quickly.”Dennis LaRocco, executive director of the HHWP Community Action Commission, said for now the Head Start program will not operate until temporary arrangements can be made at a nearby facility. The group has already started working toward securing a new, permanent location in Ada, he said. One option that is being pursued is the possibility of using a site about 10 minutes away in the Upper Scioto Valley school district for the Ada program. Nothing definitive has been determined, he said.“They want to get it going as quickly as possible,” LaRocco said. “There's a lot of logistics they have to work out. It's going to be several days before we get that accomplished.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.
Ada Head Start teachers thought fire alarm was a drill