School resource officer brings community together to donate evacuation chairs

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Wilbur S. Pence Middle School now has emergency evacuation chairs thanks to the community — and their school resource officer.

Five chairs were donated at $1500 a piece.

Officer Donnie Conley, who retired as the Dayton Police Chief a few years ago, now serves as the school's resource officer. Last year, during a fire drill he saw a student with a cast who was on crutches and struggling to get down the stairs quickly.

"I felt like we needed something in place," Conley said, "that we could get both adults and students down the stairwell in the case of an emergency."

Conley talked to the assistant principal at the school, and she directed him to look into evacuation chairs. In his research, he found they would cost a lot of money (about $1,500 a piece), so he decided to ask community leaders to pitch in, attending their meetings and asking for assistance.

Clover Hill and Dayton Ruritans, the towns of Dayton and Bridgewater and Pence Middle School's PTA all stepped up for the cause.

"It was overwhelming," Conley said, "the response that we had."

Bridgewater Mayor Ted Flory said when Officer Conley came to their board meeting, it did not take them long to say yes.

"This was really an easy question to answer," Flory said. "I hope they don't have an emergency that needs it, but if it does happen and it saves even one person, it will be well worth the investment."

Now the middle school has five evacuation chairs installed — just in case.

"I can't even describe the feeling I had," Conley said. "I was so excited when I walked into school the first day I was here, and I saw them hanging on the walls, and I was like, 'You know what, this is something... a project that our whole community pulled together to do.'"

Conley's next goal is to get a plaque that represents each of the organizations that helped to put beside the chairs to honor their donations.