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Falmouth Public Schools Custodial Team Answers the Call

Unsung Hero: Falmouth Public Schools Custodial Team Answers the Call 

By Sarah E. Murphy 

North Falmouth Elementary School CustodiansWhen a sprinkler pipe burst at North Falmouth Elementary School in early February, it was the Falmouth Public Schools’ custodial team who quietly saved the proverbial snow day.

In the days leading up to the weekend of February 3, the National Weather Service had issued a warning about frigid temperatures and dangerous wind gusts on Cape Cod. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise to North Falmouth Head Custodian Joe Deneen when, after the temperature plunged to 9 below zero, he received a call at about 2 pm on Saturday alerting him the sprinkler system had set off the fire alarm. 

Having just arrived home after an overtime shift, he began calling the head custodians of each building in the district to enlist help with clean-up efforts, and then headed back into work.

Mr. Deneen, who lives nearby, was the first to arrive at the school, greeted by responders from Falmouth Fire & Rescue Department, standing in about two inches of water in one of the back hallways. He was quickly joined by several colleagues who assessed the situation, some of whom headed to their schools and other buildings to collect wet/dry vacuums, fans, and additional cleaning supplies. 

“Everyone contributed and played a part,” Mr. Deneen said. “It was a pretty big mess.” 

The team was working around and against the clock, tasked primarily with readying the school for re-opening, but also protecting the integrity of the building and its contents by preventing water damage and mold.

North Falmouth Custodian Jay Miner emphasized the imperative need for teamwork when it comes to a project of such magnitude. 

“It’s crucial. You can’t get things done without everyone chipping in. We have to count on each other,” he said.

Falmouth Public Schools Head Custodian Don Drew credited the dedication of the FPS custodians who not only showed up, but did so willingly. 

“Having people you can count on when something like this happens, and call at any time, night or day, is so important. Some of them got there before I did,” he said.

“They’re a great group of guys. It couldn’t have happened without them.” 

By late Saturday, although they hadn’t fully completed the initial clean-up, they were projected to open the school as normally scheduled on Monday. But then Mr. Deneen received another call from the alarm company, this time on Sunday morning at about 4 am. A second pipe had burst, this time in the main office. 

Mr. Drew appreciates the support the custodial staff received from Superintendent Lori Duerr and North Falmouth Principal Rebecca Vieira, both of whom were on-site. 

“Dr. Duerr arrived and picked up a squeegee, asking how she could help, but she also gave us full reign in order to do what we needed to get our jobs done effectively. That, in and of itself, is helpful. She also brought us pizza on Sunday, which we really appreciated,” he said. 

“Mrs. Vieira was also there on both days to pitch in. She spent a great deal of time away from her family that weekend,” he said. 

Mr. Deneen echoed his sentiments.

“It’s nice to see their support and their concern for the buildings,” he said. 

Like their custodial colleagues, Mr. Deneen and Mr. Miner are ever-present in Falmouth Public Schools, but the nature of their work is often solitary and behind-the-scenes. Therefore they appreciate being honored. 

“We usually work alone, and we don’t always interact with a lot of people. It’s nice to be recognized,” Mr. Miner said. 

Although a professional cleaning crew was called in to support the team’s efforts, Mrs. Vieira agreed with Mr. Drew that the positive outcome was due to the custodians’ swift and thorough response to the incident, particularly since it happened twice in twenty-four hours. 

“Due to the nature of the break, we would not have been able to open school on Monday if it weren’t for all the work over the weekend, and our custodial staff dropping everything to come in and clean and organize. The building was so disheveled afterwards, we were moving furniture like we were getting ready for the first day of school,” Mrs. Vieira said. 

“We were all set and ready to go, and then the second pipe burst. I was worried we’d have to cancel because there was only so much the outside cleaning company could do. It really relied on the guys coming in. It was a huge team effort.” 

She added that Mr. Deneen and Mr. Miner, both of whom are also parents, were back at NFE on Monday, after working all weekend, to make sure everything was in its place, and to complete their scheduled shifts. 

As a result, it proved to be a typical Monday at North Falmouth Elementary School on February 6. 

Superintendent Lori Duerr underscored the impact of the custodial team’s dedication.

“The tireless efforts of our Falmouth Public Schools custodians in response to this particular incident are far-reaching. Because of their commitment, our Clipper students didn't miss a single day of learning, and our Clipper families didn’t have to scramble to find child care, or take time off from work to stay home with their children,” Dr. Duerr said. 

“Our custodians exhibit such respect for our beloved buildings, in emergency situations and every day. They also offer invaluable support to staff and students in countless ways, contributing so much to Clipper Nation. I am grateful for their professionalism and their personal commitment to our district.” 

Sarah E. Murphy 
s_murphy@falmouth.k12.ma.us