Incident stemmed from pressurized gas

By Gail Peckler-Dziki

Salem Lakes Fire and Rescue responded to an emergency at Trevor-Wilmot Consolidated School, but Fire Chief Mike Slover reported some positives came from the incident involving a potential natural gas leak.

“It was a good day,” Slover said about the Wednesday, March 21 incident.

The incident began shortly after the younger students arrived at the school. Two staff members reported a strong smell of natural gas and kitchen staff reported a clanking sound they had never heard before.

Principal Ted Gavlin decided to take no chances and pulled the fire alarm.

“We weren’t sure what the problem was, so I pulled the fire alarm to let Salem Lakes know something was wrong,” Gavlin said. “Our students thought it was just another fire drill, so there was no panic.”

Staff routed the students away from the Highway C front entrance, directing them toward the back of the school, away from the mechanical room.

At the time, school officials were unsure what the problem was, so they contacted Dousman Transport Company.

“If there was the possibility of an explosion, we wanted to be able to evacuate the children from the school grounds as quickly as possible,” Gavlin said.

The other issue was the cold weather, and if students could not return to school, they could sit in the heated school busses.

Gavlin, meanwhile, said Salem Lakes Battalion Chief Mike Murdoch responded within minutes.

“While Mike investigated the cause of the problem, I did a room by room search to make sure everyone was out,” Gavlin said.

Another safety measure Trevor-Wilmot has in place is a supply of one-time use Mylar thermal blankets in every classroom.

“About five years ago, a water pipe burst and sprayed on a fire alarm pull station,” Gavlin said. “That set off the fire alarm. We all ended up outside. It was February.”

Since the earlier incident happened on a blustery cold day, officials decided to put in place a safeguard, which were the thermal blankets.

The safeguard paid off last week, according to Gavlin, who said staff were ready.

“Some of our upper grade children noticed that the kindergarten teachers needed help getting the blankets out for their students,” Gavlin said. “Several of the upper grade students, without being asked, went to help get blankets on the younger children and helped comfort them.

The problem that Slover and Murdoch discovered was that there was an increase in pressurized gas, so a safety measure in the system kicked in.

“Gas was released up into the atmosphere, although the smell was strong in the school,” Slover reported. “And the pipe, through which the gas was released, runs along the outside of the building. The brackets holding the pipe were a little loose, so the pipe rattled as the gas was released.”

Slover, who was thankful the incident did not cause any significant issues, was pleased how the staff and students handled the evacuation.

“A few years ago, we worked with Trevor-Wilmot to develop different emergency responses to different situations,” Slover said.

“The precision and calmness in which this evacuation was carried out showed that lessons were learned well by the staff and taught well to the students.”

Gavlin agreed.

“We are proud of our students and how they handled themselves during what could have been a tough situation,” Galvin said.


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