During second hour Friday, a student in physics teacher Malcolm Smith’s freshmen physics class pressed the gas valve shut off as he left the room, unintentionally triggering the fire alarms. This led to a school wide evacuation lasting approximately six and a half minutes. After being given the all clear by administration, staff members directed students to return to class.
A plumbing issue arose just prior to the fire alarms going off, Dr. Tim Baker said, which caused the math section of the basement and other wings in the school, to smell of sulfur. Dr. Baker confirmed that while some people were yelling “smoke bomb” or “stink bomb,” there cause of the sulfur smell was a plumbing issue upstairs.
“They use some sort of sulfur-based acid stuff to clean the plumbing issue and it led to the smell going down in the math wing. [It wasn’t] stink bombs. It was just, literally, a plumbing issue. But anyway, I know some cases went outside just ‘cause it smelled a lot better outside than in, but that was not related to the fire alarm that went off,” Dr. Baker said. “That was a gas shut off valve that got pressed [in] a science classroom, which trips the fire alarm. So those two things were not related in anyway, shape or form. They just happened to [occur], like, literally happen consecutively.”
Dr. Baker confirmed it was a student who pushed the gas valve shut off in Smith’s classroom, triggering the fire alarms. He said the administration has “had some discussions with the student that pressed it,” but did not comment further.
“One of my second hour kids, right before the bell rang at the end of class, pushed the emergency gas isolation valves that were installed last year in the room,” Smith said, “And [the valves are] tied to the fire alarm system, and it set the fire alarm off in the building.”
Jaslyne Johason, a freshman in Smith’s class during the incident, said the student accidently set the alarm off while playing around with his classmates.
“So we were in class and they were horsing around. He lifted the thing up to see if you could actually push it, but it’s like, it got the key, and so he didn’t know, so he didn’t push it,” Johason said. “Then he got pushed into [it and] his elbow hit it and it went off.”
As soon as the alarm went off, Athletics Director David Egan checked on his assigned area of the school to ensure the evacuation was without issue.
“As part of the emergency action plan that the school has, the area of the building that I supervise is the world languages wing,” Egan said. “So I was just responding to my area to make sure students had — everyone had evacuated. That’s really the only reason why I was even there in the first place.”
Considering the evacuation was unplanned, Dr. Baker said he thinks the student, staff and administration handled the situation correctly and, after the administration confirmed that the fire alarms went off because a student pushed the gas valve shut off, everyone was able to return to class in a timely manner.
“I think we’ve learned [from] fire drills not to panic. People get out in a pretty orderly fashion, now, when the fire alarms went off. And I was out when all the fire alarms were going off, and nobody was panicking,” Dr. Baker said. “We’ve made them so routine that people — it looked like a regular fire drill. And it wasn’t a regular fire drill, but people didn’t panic, they went out the right doors, we all got in an orderly fashion, which is nice to see. I think fire drills actually helped because people knew what to do because we do it so often.”
Egan said the school’s response to the disruption was promising and showed how practicing evacuations throughout the year is beneficial during actual situations requiring students and faculty to vacate the building.
“To me it looked like the building evacuated pretty quickly, which is encouraging when we do a number of fire drills over the course of the year,” Egan said. “It’s nice to know that the faculty and the student body responded well, because it seemed that the building got evacuated pretty quickly. That’s encouraging.”
While the sulfur smell from plumbing issue and the evacuation were unrelated, Dr. Baker said he can see why people assumed they were.
“It was kind of a comedy of errors there in about a half-hour time period,” Dr. Baker said.
What was your experience with the evacuation today? Let us know in the comments below.