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Gas leak forces evacuation of technology center

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Two minor injuries in accident involving valve

By Lisa King

A small gas leak caused by a broken valve forced the temporary evacuation Tuesday of the Shelby County Area Technology center.

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Students and staff at the facility on Rocket Lane were evacuated to Shelby County High School from 8:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Two maintenance worked received singed eyebrows, Shelby County Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Ivers said, and school officials said two students who were in an adjacent classroom were taken to the hospital because they said they were not “feeling well.”

“The maintenance men were doing routine maintenance work on a [natural gas heating] unit, and the gas valve just failed,” he said, adding that one of the men told him the valve had been difficult to turn and just broke off. “There was a small flash fire, and we evacuated the staff and students.”

He said there was no damage to the school, although the Industrial Maintenance Room had to be sealed off so it could be cleaned up.

“We helped ventilate the system and stayed to wait on Atmos [Energy] so they could shut off the gas while the clean up was under way,” he said.

Duanne Puckett, communications coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools, said Area Technology Center Principal Susan Wiley notified the other high schools about the situation so any students who were scheduled to be transported to the center would not be. 

“When an attempt was made to turn on the pilot light, the gas valve broke,” Kerry Whitehouse, assistant superintendent of operations, said in a statement released by SCPS.

He said that was when the small flash of fire occurred, and the two workers extinguished the blaze, pulled the fire alarm and worked with Wiley to evacuate students and staff to a safe location.

SCHS Principal Eddie Oakley opened the school’s cafeteria for  evacuees, who were assessed by emergency medical technicians.

Puckett said parents of those students and those in the classroom involved in the incident were notified.

Whitehouse said the students were allowed to return to the building around after no leaks were detected and the 100 percent clear sign was given. The district did close the Industrial Maintenance classroom for the remainder of the day for general clean-up and replacement of the broken valve.

Puckett later released a statement that said the state fire marshal told district officials that he considered the incident to be an accident, that no fault or human error was involved.