Principal determined to get Lejeune High School back to normal following Nov. 1 fire

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Vincent Coglianese, commander, Marine Corps Installations Command, left, Lejeune High School Principal, Eric Steimel, center, and Col. Scott Baldwin, acting commander, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune inspect damage in the drama classroom at LHS, Nov. 8. The damage to the roof and residual water damage was caused by the Nov. 1 structural fire.

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – It has been more than a week since Lejeune High School was impacted by a fire that caused significant damage to a portion of its roof and residual water damage to several key classrooms. Its principal Eric Steimel has finally had a chance to reflect on the events of that evening and ongoing restoration efforts.

“I went home, which is a 30 minute commute and by the time I got back, the parking lot was full of blinking lights,” recalled Steimel. “Camp Lejeune Fire department immediately extinguished the blaze, and as soon as that was over they were committed to removing smoke and water from the building. Without their efforts it could’ve been a lot worse.”

Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville fire departments’ personnel had to evacuate several people from the building. There were no injuries reported.

According to on-scene officials, the fire started around 5:45 p.m. in an electrical closet above the band room in the southeast corner of the school.The fire damaged the roof above, as well as water damage from sprinklers in the auditorium, a theater classroom and the band classroom.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. the assistant principal Dana Sutherland, Col. Scott A. Baldwin, acting commander, Marine Corps Installations East, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and Steimel were escorted through the building by Chief Christopher W. Parker with Fire & Emergency Services Division on Camp Lejeune to assess damage, according to Steimel’s official after-action report.

Camp Lejeune School District Superintendent Mr. Todd Curkendall quickly started a comprehensive health inspection of the school the following morning after the building was cleared, while Steimel said he toured the building with base officials to determine necessary requirements for recovery efforts.

“We’ve had the fire department, Base Safety, industrial hygiene, and they’ve been very active in making sure that air quality is appropriate, and that the fire alarm systems are back at full capacity,” he said. “We concerned ourselves with indoor air quality, the integrity of the fire alarm system and determining residual hazards.”

The school relocated the theater arts classroom as well as the band classroom for a minimum of 4 weeks, and students have had to make up the canceled school day, on top of those missed during Hurricane Florence and Michael.

“We have put together a plan to move forward to reclaim some of that instructional time,” explained Steimel adding that the school is still in the process of accounting for damage to furniture, equipment and instructional supplies.

He says the school remains committed to preventing any negative impact to student activities and athletics despite damage to the gym floor, and Steimel states that scheduled activities are still happening, just in new locations.

“I don’t like the fact that we are in tough times between the hurricane and the fire, but one of the things that continuously impresses me about this community is that, when there are tough times people bond together, and the best truly comes out,” reflected Steimel. “It really makes a difference, it makes a difficult job a lot better.”

Camp Lejeune’s Deputy Commander Col. Scott Baldwin praised Steimel’s ability to react and his overall commitment to the school.

“Mr. Steimel is repeatedly able to quickly assess a situation, understand the importance of the event and develop a safe and effective plan to address the issue,” he said. “In this event, he understood the requirement to ensure the hazards were fully mitigated before bringing teachers and students back to the school, and quickly moved on implementing a recovery plan. He always has the best interest of his staff, students and parents in mind.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.