IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — Daycare workers, parents, and construction workers sprung into action to help evacuate a nearby daycare while a large fire burned in downtown Iowa City.
On Tuesday, a fire broke out on the third floor of construction at the Hieronymus Square site that caused $1,000,000 in damages. By Wednesday, investigators came out and said a heater came into contact with combustibles which sparked the blaze.
Steps away from the construction site, a teacher was preparing to take the trash out at Cadence Academy when she smelt the fire. She went to investigate when she caught sight of the fire and rushed back to the daycare.
As she was readying to pull the fire alarm, a parent had run from work in a panic to alert the daycare. The assistant director at the academy, Jean Grauer, said at that same time she was on the phone with another parent that saw the fire.
Grauer said she hung up and the daycare sprung into action and began evacuating.
“We said fire! We’ve got to get out now!” Grauer recalls. “We were grabbing coats, we were grabbing blankets but our main concern was getting out of the building as soon as possible.”
Jessica Corliss was working a block away when she saw the fire from her building during a meeting.
“I saw the flames and I put two and two together,” she said.
The fire was coming from the same direction as her daughter Charlotte’s daycare.
“I said ‘oh my gosh, I have to go’ and literally sprinted, no jacket. all I had was my phone on me. I sprinted over here,” Corliss said. She said before crossing the street she could already feel the heat coming off the building.
Corliss was one of the first three people to notify the daycare when she rushed inside. Seconds later, she said, the fire alarms sounded.
“I grabbed as many jackets as I could for the kids because the teachers can’t grab anything really they just have to go,” Corliss said.
Temperatures were in the negative windchill when staff started evacuating the kids through the playground and onto the sidewalk but even that was too close.
“Ash was falling on us,” Grauer said. “All of a sudden as we’re going through the fire exits on the playground, construction workers are running down the streets.”
She said construction workers and first responders started to help cross the kids across the street to safety.
“The construction workers were incredible. They said’ ‘okay, we’re grabbing blankets’ for these kids as my teachers were trying to get the kids across the street,” Grauer said. “We lost count of how many construction workers that were helping us. I had some construction workers who were following me into here saying, ‘okay, where are more blankets? Where are more towels? Let’s grab coats.”
The help didn’t end there either. The Capitol House Apartments, a senior living community, took notice of the kids in the cold and brought them and staff inside.
“Everything went smoothly because everyone worked together,” Grauer said.
Once the kids were safe at Capitol House, staff immediately started to notify parents where they were so they could get them.
“I was so impressed with how well they did. They did a great job. All the kids were safe,” Corliss said.
Staff brought binders of emergency contacts for the kids and alerted them through an emergency app notification.
Multiple other parents picking up their kids on Wednesday afternoon sang praises off the staffs actions. They said none of the kids were scared and were calm when parents got to them.
Grauer said staff sang songs with the kids while they waited for parents. Many kids, she said, thought of it as a field trip.
In 14 years of the Iowa City Cadence Academy, Grauer said they’ve never had to evacuate. She said monthly fire drills prepared them for a smooth reaction.
No damage was done to the academy from the fire.