Day care teacher Michelle Hammack was fired last week for leaving her napping students unattended in the classroom while she stepped out briefly to put out an oven fire in a nearby room.
Hammack told WTEV that she smelled burning chicken nuggets
and stepped out of her room at Little Temples Childcare the Jacksonville, Fla., suburb of Arlington to investigate.
"I just leaned over and peeked around and there was a fire in the oven, and I ran in there and opened it to try to put it out, and the fire alarm started going off," she said.
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Hammack says she hurried back to her class and woke up her students and led them outside. Leaving other teachers to do a head count, Hammack says she went back inside to make sure no students were left behind.
"When I got to the third classroom by the kitchen, I could see that it was just a contained fire in the oven," she told the news station.
The fire trucks had not yet arrived so Hammack put the small fire out.
But instead of a pat on the back, Hammack was later fired “because she left her room,” facility owner Olga Rozhaov told WTEV.
"Even though children are sleeping, the teachers are supposed to be there," said Rozhaov, who defended her decision as appropriate and something she would do again. “If anybody else does the same thing, I will fire again. I will fire them. No question."
The Department of Children and Families is investigating.
Hammack says her action may have prevented the fire from progressing and losing her job is unfair.
"I didn't start the fire. I put it out," she told WTEV.
Firefighters arrived five minutes after the initial automatic alarm call. They found the facility safe and allowed students and teachers to enter 13 minutes later.
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