Burlington and West Burlington fire departments were dispatched to the school Friday night for a fire alarm, later discovered to be caused by a busted steam pipe.
Steam poured from a burst pipe on the roof of Burlington High School Friday night, forcing the Burlington Fire Department to evacuate the building of the students still inside.
The call came in shortly after 9 p.m., and for a little while, it was impossible to tell whether it was smoke or steam coming from the roof. A BHS basketball game was just letting out, and a full compliment of firetrucks from the Burlington and West Burlington Fire Departments arrived on scene three minutes after the call came in.
"It showed all indications of being a fire," said Burlington battalion chief Bruce Workman, referring to the school's alarm panel. "There was water flowing, which indicated the sprinklers were working."
The source of the suspected "blaze" was traced to a small rooftop shed, connected to a boiler that is used to heat the swimming pool area.
"The steam just kept coming, and we got a little suspicious about what was going on," Workman said.
Since the only access to the shed is through a narrow ladder passage, both fire departments utilized the ladders on their aerial trucks to reach the shed. They discovered that a pipe connected to the boiler had burst and was leaking super-heated water, which immediately turned to steam in the frigid air.
"A person couldn't have walked in there (the pool area) without protection, it was so hot," Workman said.
The water flow was stopped, and a sigh of relief swept through locals who were following the false alarm on Facebook. It's been nearly 13 years since a fire destroyed Horace Mann Middle School, and for a few minutes, it seemed as if history might repeat itself.
Coincidentally, it was the 2005 fire at Horace Mann that forced the Burlington Fire Department to buy the aerial truck that was used Friday at BHS. The previous truck, built in 1973, serviced its last fire that day. The hydraulics stopped working, making it impossible to lift the ladder.
The ladder didn't stop working until it was used to rescue a couple of firefighters from the collapsing roof — a miracle of either fate or chance. The tips of the ladder were burnt in the process, and when fire equipment is damaged by fire, it is no longer considered safe or usable.
Though the 1973 American LaFrance fire truck has long been out of service, it's still in the public eye. To see it, all you have to do travel down Interstate 90 in South Dakota. The truck is sitting at mile marker 153, about 100 miles outside of Rapid City.
The truck, and a fleet of retired fire trucks just like it, are used as advertising billboards along the highway for the Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. The brewing company is inside an original fire station that was built in 1915.
"It's a nice place," Workman said.