POCATELLO — Science teacher Bryce Metcalf woke up Friday morning to alarming text messages: the school where he works was on fire.
He immediately thought of Jim.
A red-eared slider named after Doors vocalist Jim Morrison, the turtle was a beloved class pet slated to celebrate his 20th birthday this fall — if he survived the fire.
Metcalf wasn’t the only one worried. His students were messaging him on Google Classroom to ask about Jim, and athletes were reaching out as well (Metcalf is an offensive line coach for Highland High’s varsity football team).
Metcalf and his wife went up to Highland High a few hours later to ask first responders about the turtle, but there was nothing they could do at the time.
So Metcalf went to an emergency staff meeting that was held that day, worrying and waiting for more news about his turtle — who was hopefully still alive in a classroom not far from the wing where the fire broke out.
“He was the closest living thing to the fire,” Metcalf said.
At the meeting, Lance Cartwright, Highland’s school resource officer, heard about Jim and other class pets and decided to come to the rescue.
Cartwright and Metcalf have known each other since high school — their football teams used to compete; then they played on the same team at Idaho State University; and now both work and coach football at Highland.
And all that time, Jim has been by Metcalf’s side.
A turtle who became a lifelong friend
Metcalf received the turtle as a gift his senior year of high school — a condolence meant to cheer him up after a devastating football loss when his hopes for a state championship were dashed.
“We got upset in the first round of playoffs,” Metcalf said. “The game was on Halloween. It was a blizzard, we lost a really heartbreaking game.”
The gift-giver at the time probably didn’t realize the long-term commitment she was signing him up for, Metcalf said, but he’s taken good care of the reptile ever since. Now, Jim is a lifelong friend.
Cartwright knew that history and went straight from the staff meeting to the school to see what he could do.
“I knew Jim meant a lot to Bryce,” Cartwright said.
Two staffers step up to rescue beloved reptiles
Jim and the other class pets, all reptiles, were in classrooms spared by the fire. But the smoke inhalation and lack of heat were concerns.
Once the fire was contained, Cartwright got permission from the firefighters on scene to enter the building, along with Brian Glenn, the school district’s energy educator manager. The two made a beeline for Jim through smoky, dark hallways where water puddled on the floors.
“It was kind of eerie,” Cartwright said. “It’s not something you ever imagine happening.”
They made it to Jim, and he was there, alive in his aquarium.
They scooped him into a styrofoam cooler and brought him out to Metcalf, who was waiting outside in his car.
“It was kind of special seeing him light up that his turtle was still alive,” Cartwright said.
And then he and Glenn went back in to to save another science teacher’s five pets — a few snakes, a toad, and some that were hiding from view.
They delivered the aquariums, and the half-dozen reptiles got to escape the smoke and head home.
“We were definitely more than willing to go save them, I just felt bad we couldn’t help more people,” Cartwright said. “Everyone was worried about their property or sentimental things.”
But they followed their orders — just save what’s living.
Home at last
Reunited with his longtime friend, Metcalf immediately got him set up in his new “vacation home.” Albeit smaller than his normal digs, it would do for now.
Metcalf posted a photo of the saved turtle to Google Classroom for all his students to see.
“Yay, Jim!” one student wrote.
And the next day, when Metcalf was chaperoning Highland’s prom (an event salvaged thanks to some last-minute help from Idaho State University), the students told their teacher how happy they were that his turtle had made it.
In November, Jim will still get to celebrate his 20th birthday. Here’s hoping he has many more.