By Christopher Sprycha
On January 2, 2014 a fire broke out in one of the chemistry labs in Beacon High School. The fire resulted in two students being sent to the hospital with burns. Alonzo Yanes suffered severe burns to his face, neck, and has respiratory issues due to the fire damaging his lungs. The second student, Julia Saltonstall suffered less severe burns on her neck and arms.
Before the incident occurred, the teacher, Anna Poole, was showing her class how electrons react with various chemicals to form different types of colored flames. A fireball formed due to a buildup of methyl alcohol fumes created when the containers were left open. When the teacher went to light the fire, the vapor cloud ignited.
Afterwards, city officials began an investigation of the event in order to reevaluate the school’s laboratory safety procedures. During the investigation the New York City Fire Department found eight violations in Beacon High School. One of these violations was the improper storage of chemicals. The school was also instructed to provide a safety shower and eyewash in one of its labs.
Following the fire, Beacon has stepped up its fire safety.
According to a student at Beacon High School, Maya Terhune ‘14, “There have been a number of fire blankets and other precautions installed in classrooms and in the hallways.”
Additionally, Beacon High School has suspended the use of chemicals and fire in its labs until further notice, according to another Beacon student, Lizzy Moreno ‘14.
She said, “Right now we’re not able to do any experiments that involve fire or toxic chemicals.”
Terhune commented, “Our ability to use chemicals in the classrooms has been suspended temporarily.”
Imrul Lyeon ’16 said “the fact that an explosion occurred from a lab is just startling since that could occur in most high schools and the fact that it happened in Beacon just shows how students need to be careful with what they do, especially with experiments.”
Tech has always been concerned about safety, especially since it houses over five thousand in students and faculty. According to the Assistant Principal of Chemistry, Thomas Evangelist, and Erin Ratz, a Chemistry teacher, the Chemistry Department at Tech is very strict about safety in the labs.
Evangelist said, “We have always had a strict, zero tolerance, no mercy, policy in the laboratory. Sometimes the Chemistry Department comes under fire for being too strict.”
In fact, Evangelist said these comments come from teachers that do not have a lot of experience around toxic chemicals. “For example, parents will contact us as to inquire about a poor grade in lab and not understand that their child’s failure to follow all safety procedures must be followed by a harsh punishment. The chemistry teachers should not come under fire for looking out for the safety of the students while in the laboratory.”
Ratz said, “Over the years, Tech has modified or removed some demonstration materials deemed to be too risky.”
Tech has been reviewing its labs for years and making sure that they are all safe and low risk in order to avoid injuries and/or accidents.
As for any procedures changing because of the fire at Beacon, Evangelist said, “We will make some minor upgrades, budget pending, to include demo shields in the spring term.”