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SHEEP SPRINGS – Two days after a fire destroyed the former Head Start building in Tooh Haltsooí Chapter, officials met on Monday to talk about addressing emergency situations in the community.

The building is located behind the chapter house and had not been used by Head Start for more than a decade, chapter officials said.

Sharon Sandman, who lives north of the chapter house, was among the first to call 911 when two girls came to her home after 8 p.m. Friday and told her the building was on fire.

At Monday's meeting, Sandman described how she called 911 but there was no answer. After her third call, she was told other residents reported the fire and crews were en route.

With the wind blowing, flames spread quickly, moving upwards into the structure, she recalled.

“The more it spread, the more it started burning underneath the roof,” Sandman said adding it was almost 9 p.m. when she saw the first fire truck arrived.

Crews responded from San Juan County fire stations in Newcomb, Shiprock and Valley as well as from McKinley County's Navajo Estates station in Yah-ta-hey, according to chapter officials.

The building suffered significant damage. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, chapter officials said.

One major concern discussed by meeting participants was the response time of emergency personnel and the need to establish a local group to handle emergencies.

"The problem we have is response," Chapter Vice President Louise Charley.

Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who represents the chapter on the Navajo Nation Council, said the chapter should develop a volunteer group, whose members would undergo training by the tribe's Department of Emergency Management to learn how to best respond to emergencies.

The goal would be to have at least 10 residents train for volunteer firefighter positions, she said.

"We have to take care of ourselves," Crotty said.

Charley, the chapter vice president, also suggested the chapter develop signage along the highways to identify the road to the chapter house because a number of fire trucks drove into the nearby Navajo Housing Authority residential area.

Sally Joe, the chapter’s secretary-treasurer, said the chapter can start an ALERT Team, which stands for "authorized local emergency response team."

“It kind of wakes us up," she said of the fire.

"How shall we be prepared again for something else,” Joe added.

Chapter Manager Patricia Begay said the chapter owned the building but Head Start owned the equipment and supplies that were inside.

Begay said she will be filing a property loss report with the tribe’s Risk Management office in Window Rock, Ariz.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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