Middle school evacuated for third time in week; Crofton incidents spur call for review


New gas leaks yesterday forced the third evacuation of Crofton Middle School this week, while concerns about how the first evacuation was handled have top administrators calling for a systemwide re-education on how to get children out of a building in an emergency.

Pupils were evacuated shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday after Principal Richard Berzinski and a maintenance inspector checking the boiler room in the rear of the school detected an odor, said Chief John Scholz, spokesman for county EMS/Fire/Rescue.

Fire inspectors using gas detectors found no gas in the room, but maintenance crews from the school and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. found two small leaks in the hot water heater and shut it down. Pupils were allowed back inside shortly after 9: 15 a.m.

The leaks were smaller than the ones in the heater and two rooftop heating units that forced two evacuations Tuesday, school officials said. School maintenance workers were supposed to have repaired the system Wednesday.

"Why this hasn't been repaired or fixed, I don't want to go there," said Ken Nichols, area superintendent for the school. "We're going to have the whole thing gone over" with crews from the school maintenance staff and BGE, he said.

The school was evacuated Tuesday morning and afternoon when fumes enveloped the halls and classrooms. Berzinski went on the public address system to tell pupils to get their coats and leave.

That went against state protocol, Nichols said. "That is not the procedure as established by the school system," he said.

Those guidelines require that the fire alarm system be used and that pupils should not be told to get anything during the course of an emergency evacuation. He would not say if Berzinski was reprimanded.

Fire inspectors opened an investigation because pupils were still in the building when the first fire units arrived Tuesday. They also issued the school a violation notice because strobe lights on the fire alarms that alert deaf pupils to danger were not working.

Problems cited with Crofton's evacuation have forced school officials to go over state evacuation procedures with principals of all 117 county schools, Nichols said. Principals at each school have had a copy of the orders that were updated in July 1997, said school spokeswoman Jane Doyle.

They have not, however, been required to keep them in their Handbook for Emergency and Legal Procedures, Doyle said. Yesterday, top administrators told principals they should put the seven-page requirements into the handbooks.

"I'm not sure all of our principals will know how to do this unless they've dusted it off and looked at it recently," Nichols said. "I asked some of the principals if they knew what it was, and some of them gave me that deer-in-the-headlights look, like they didn't know it existed. Others remembered it, but they couldn't put their hands on it."

Neither fire nor school officials reported any problems with yesterday's evacuation. Berzinski briefed faculty and staff yesterday afternoon about the school's recent troubles and sent a letter home to parents explaining what has been happening.

The letter said there was never a problem with fire alarms in the portable classrooms, as has been reported. Nichols said maintenance workers will try to have the heating units and strobe lights repaired when pupils return to school Tuesday. Pupils are out of school Monday because of teacher in-service training.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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