By Vicky Kaniaru
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews)—Fire struck Truett-McConnell College's unoccupied athletic center July 4. No one was seriously injured, but damage from the fire caused school officials to postpone for one week the opening day of TMC's fall semester.
The adjusted start date is Aug. 24. New students will move in on Aug. 20, and returning students on Aug. 22 and 23.
Ricky Pruitt, Cleveland's fire chief, told TMCNews he suspects lightning from a passing storm sparked the blaze, which partially burned an electrical equipment room, caused extensive smoke damage and charred some bleachers.
TMC Public Safety Officer Scott Taylor, who discovered the fire, was treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation after squelching the blaze with a fire extinguisher. "It was the worst lightning I had ever seen," he said. "I got the whiff of a type of electric burning smell, and so I went chasing after it."
Taylor saw smoke coming from the athletic center, rushed in to check if anyone was inside, and then grabbed the extinguisher.
After the situation was under control, Taylor wasn't breathing properly. Responding medical technicians treated him with oxygen to no avail, and then recommended Taylor admit himself to the hospital. Held overnight for observation, he was released the next day.
"I am thankful that Scott responded to the incident as quickly as he did," said David Armstrong, vice president for administrative services. "If those bleachers had caught on fire, the gym likely would have been a total loss."
TMC President Emir Caner commented on the situation in an email from Thailand, where he accompanies TMC students on a mission trip: "When lightning struck our gym, our plates, already full with other projects, overflowed. While we could have made campus conditions adequate for our new and returning students by the former move-in day of August 13, I believe it honors the students far more to postpone move-in day one week as well as the beginning of classes.
"With this action, our students and staff will be able to enjoy the fruition of these labors with far less distraction or encumbrance," Caner added. "We are grateful to our Lord for sending us such a wonderful and large group of students, and grateful for the patience given to us to ensure we complete these important projects to the best of our abilities."
At the conclusion of a formal investigation now underway regarding the fire's origin and the completion of insurance officials' assessments, repairs to the damaged building will commence.