Jane Fogarty’s third grade class at Immaculate Conception School in Clarksville were in the school chapel for Eucharistic adoration last September.
It was the first time her students were allowed to use the kneelers before the tabernacle to pray, and the students were taking turns two at a time, she said.
“It was almost time for us to leave,” she said. When Corbin Snyder and Ezra Kinfe started yelling about fire and smoke, Fogarty first told them to be quiet. Then she saw the that the curtains behind the crucifix on the altar were burning.
In more than 30 years of teaching, Fogarty had never experienced anything like that.
Luckily, the Clarksville Fire Department and other emergency responders arrived quickly to douse the fire and contain the damage.
On Thursday, May 5, Immaculate Conception held an open house for all the emergency responders who came to the school’s aid that day and all the others who have helped with the repairs and restoration to the chapel since then to give them a big thank you.
“We’re here to thank everybody for all they did to save” the chapel and restore it after the fire, Immaculate Conception Principal Stephanie Stafford said.
The fire started when a draft in the chapel blew the polyester curtains onto candles on the altar.
After seeing the fire, “I tried to move the candles away from the curtain,” Fogarty said.
Just then, Lisa Meeks, the school’s bookkeeper, stepped into the chapel and saw the fire. She ran to get a fire extinguisher while Fogarty escorted the children out of the building and alerted the rest of the school.
“It just happened all so fast,” Fogarty said.
The fire department and emergency responders arrived within a few minutes and were able to put out the fire and contain the damage to the area around the altar.
“That day we had quite a few emergency vehicles” in front of the school, Stafford said.
Thomas Carpet Cleaning and Restoration Services of Clarksville were on the scene the day of the fire to begin the cleanup, said Dave Swalgren, facilities manager for the school and church.
Thomas Environmental Services of Nashville were on hand the next day to start preparing to remove the asbestos that the fire had exposed, Swalgren said.
It took some time for the insurance claim to clear and for bids on the repairs to return before work could begin in January. The repairs were completed in March, Swalgren said.
While the chapel was shut down, the school moved its Masses to the gymnasium, Stafford said.
Jane Fogarty’s husband, Paul, an engineer at the Trane air conditioner factory in Clarksville and woodworker in his free time, offered his talents to build a new wooden alcove behind the crucifix on the altar to replace the curtains, a new ambo, altar, communion table and other furniture on the altar, and wooden panels for the Stations of the Cross.
He has always wanted to do a project of that size, and one that people at the school can enjoy for years to come, Fogarty said.
“I think it’s gorgeous,” Mrs. Fogarty said. “I might be a little biased,” she added with a smile.
“It’s a once in a lifetime woodworking project for him,” Mrs. Fogarty said of her husband. “I was glad we were here to help the church and the school.”
Another parishioner, Len Stolz, worked on repairing the crucifix. The fire melted the polyester curtain onto the arm of the crucifix. “It took me about a week to get the polyester off,” Stolz said. “I took a lot of polyester off.”
The wooden arm of the crucifix was stained darker by the smoke and fire. “Stephanie asked us to leave it that way,” said Stolz, who also is a member of the parish’s facilities maintenance team and the parish Finance Committee.
Stafford praised the results of the repairs and restoration work. “We’re very happy with the result,” she said.
Stafford also made a point to thank the firefighters who responded to the school and were on hand for the open house.
Clarksville Fire Department District Chief Tom Ford was among those visiting. It’s not too often he returns to the scene of a fire, he said. “It looks nice.”