John Howell Sr. editorial 7/14/2015

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It was a night that will remain in the minds of many

What remained of Batesville Elementary School’s kindergarten building was still a flaming hulk early Saturday morning when I heard one of those silver liners, folks who view a tragic scene and immediately find some silver lining in the dark cloud.

Turns out, there are many.

Foremost and first mentioned, of course, was the timing: No kids in the building; the teachers who had been preparing their classrooms for school’s start August 6 had left earlier that evening.

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Equally important: No one was injured.

That’s simply amazing. Seventeen pieces of fire equipment from 13 different fire departments, 80 firefighters in action, hoses snaking everywhere carrying water under high pressure, fire, heat, falling debris, many bystanders lining nearby sidewalks and the closest we could learn of any threat to anyone’s well-being was the report of one diabetic firefighter who went too long without eating and let his sugar get low.

Simply amazing, but not surprising. Fire departments have been seriously training their personnel for years, raising the quality of fire protection for everyone. All those hours of training year-in and year-out came into play Friday night.

And the time of day?

Fifty-five of the 80 firefighters who turned out are volunteers who responded to the Batesville Fire Department’s call for mutual aid. After 9 p.m. on a Friday evening, more volunteers are likely to be at home, near their stations and equipment than during the daytime when they are away at their jobs. They got here fast.

And the crowd of us gawkers who gathered to witness the historic blaze?

“We had no problem with crowd control,” said Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Bean who was among law enforcement officials who responded to the scene without being called.

Many in the crowd, seeing hot, exhausted firefighters gulping bottles of water donated by Batesville businesses,  became water bearers themselves, hauling cases of water up and down College and Atwell Streets.

The list of silver linings is long and keeps growing.

Churches have called offering classroom space; First Security Bank has opened an account to raise money for BES teachers and offers to match donations up to $15,000; Holiday Inn owner Vijay Vaghela sent a message offering to clear out a floor of his hotel for classroom space and to use his restaurant to prepare food and his meeting room to feed the displaced students.
Special T’s owner Phil Moore has created a special BES tee shirt. Proceeds from their sales will go to the BES Booster Club. (Details on page 4B.)

And so on.

There are two more observations that I would like to offer:

I wouldn’t have wished it on them for anything, but kindergarten teachers are accustomed to dealing with obstacles and prove themselves year after year to be energetic and resourceful. After all, these are the teachers who teach little bitty folk how to read and count.

Now faced with an even larger obstacle, they will tackle it with a vengeance, sparing no energy to make their new, temporary classrooms — wherever they turn out to be — as bright and welcoming as they had made those that were burned in Friday night’s fire, all in the interest of making those kindergarteners’ first day at school as bright and happy as can be.

Nor would I have wished this on South Panola Schools Superintendent Tim Wilder. But if it had to happen, better now after he has been at the helm of the district for these past two years. Wilder’s tenure at South Panola has given us a chance to know him and for him to know us.
Now faced with this demanding emergency, the community is reassured by the confidence with which we have grown to view Wilder’s leadership. He faces demanding days ahead. We appreciate his immediate, sweeping  response to this emergency. We encourage the community to continue its concern, patience and support for the school and its administration in the days ahead.

Every place views itself as special for one reason or the other. That’s our collective societal nature.

Years from now when we look back on Batesville’s response to the events of July 10 and 11, 2015, we will know many more reasons why we are special.