Thursday, March 7, 2013

HVAC Noxious Gas Leak Hospitalizes 28 Students in Tenn.

Nashville, Tenn:  More than two dozen students have spent the night in a hospital after carbon monoxide leaked at their Nashville private school. A hole in the school's heating unit is the reported cause of the leak. Drexel Preparatory Academy principal Cheryl Bowman told WTVF-TV students began coming to the office Monday morning complaining of flu-like symptoms. Officials decided to cancel classes. After students were sent home, the school got a call from Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital, saying several students had been brought in and showed high levels of carbon monoxide. Workers found a hole in a heating unit that serves the central part of the school, where the kindergarten and first-grade classes are located. Twenty-eight students were admitted to the hospital and put on oxygen overnight. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by combustion.

Discussion Point:  

  • BE AWARE. If more than one student or school member complains of a headache or seems uncharacteristically drowsy there may be a gas leak. REMEMBER Carbon Monoxide can KILL. Always Err on the side of caution. 
    • This may also be triggered by the school healthcare personnel if they have a number of student's complaining of headache, drowsiness, or lethargy.
  • LEAVE & VENTILATE. Have the students and faculty members leave the room and take them as a group to the school nurse. Let adjacent teachers be aware as you depart. Ventilate the room by opening the window (s). Don't necessarily open the door because you may spread the gas throughout the school if it is localized to your room.
  • REPORT ASAP. Contact the school leadership and the School Nurse to let them know what is going on, which room you are in, and where you are taking the students. School Leaders will quickly assess and contact the Fire Department and their facilities personnel. The Fire Department will check the air quality and the Facilities (Maintenance) folks can assist in determining if there is a leak and where it may be coming from. Leave this to the professionals. 
  • May REQUIRE a LOCALIZED OR FULL EVACUATION? If Fire Department Incident Commander deems the air quality to be dangerous, they may direct the school leadership to evacuate a part (ie., 2d floor) of the building, relocate personnel (to the gym or cafeteria), or direct an evacuation of the entire building to mitigate the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning or noxious fumes. 
    • This situation may be further complicated by the time of year or season. If it is winter and you need to have a full evacuation you now have another issue: cold injuries if you have to stay outside for an extended period of time and if the weather is severe. 
  • NEED TO IDENTIFY THE SOURCE OF THE LEAK OR THE FACILITY REMAINS UNSAFE. Identifying the source of the leak is critical to preventing further injury to people and of secondary importance to determine when you can continue school operations. When does the school get cleared to re-open if it needed to be closed. The collaboration between the school and district leadership, Fire Dept., School District Facilities representatives, and District Public Affairs are vital to keeping the school community informed of what happened, what has been done to fix the problem, and the impact on the safety of students and teachers, and impact on school operations .  
    • Does your school have Carbon Monoxide Detectors? If not why not?
    • How often is the HVAC system inspected to determine if their are leaks, damage to ducts, intake or exhaust valves block? 

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