UPDATE: In the aftermath of Friday’s chemical fire at Woodson High, both Superintendent Karen Garza and Principal Scott Poole sent messages Monday to the parents. Stressing that the “safety of students and staff is always the top priority in our schools...”
Five students and a teacher were all injured in a fire last week after a chemical demonstration inside a Woodson High classroom went awry. It forced the school to be evacuated for three hours and caused an estimated $7,500 damage.
FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said she was “deeply saddened” about the incident that happened Friday, Oct. 30. “My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families,” she said. “And all of us in Fairfax County Public Schools sincerely wish for a speedy recovery for each of the six people who were injured.”
The fire occurred in the science wing during a sophomore chemistry class, and officials have determined that it was accidental. Two of the students sustained the most serious injuries and were medevaced to hospital burn units. One was flown to MedStar Washington Hospital, and the other, to Children’s National Medical Center.
Three students and one of the teachers sustained minor injuries. “There were two teachers in the classroom because it was a team-taught class,” said school system spokesman John Torre. “One teacher suffered minor burns and was treated at the school; the other one was fine.” The three students were treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
ALL THE INJURED parties sustained chemical burns but, because of HIPAA laws dealing with health-information privacy, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Dan Schmidt could not reveal the nature of their injuries or what parts of their bodies were burned.
He did say, however, that about eight units with 25 firefighters and paramedics responded to the scene Friday morning. They came from the City of Fairfax and West Annandale stations, as well as from West Ox Road’s Station 40, which brought both a fire engine and a HAZMAT unit.
The fire began around 9:40 a.m., with most of the students immediately leaving the classroom. The sprinklers came on and prevented the blaze from spreading beyond that room. And although the fire was still burning when firefighters arrived, they were able to extinguish it quickly. Fire officials say approximately half the classroom sustained damage.
Meanwhile, the entire school population – some 2,400 students, plus faculty and staff – poured outside the building until it was cleared for re-entry at 12:35 p.m. “The fire alarm went off and they calmly evacuated,” said Torre. “Initially, the students just went outside. Then, when it was evident they’d be out there for a long time, they were directed to the football stadium.”
While there, Woodson Principal Scott Poole explained to the students what had happened and told them that the firefighters had to thoroughly inspect the scene to make sure it was safe before anyone went back inside the building. But they were only there about 20 minutes because of a previously scheduled 12:55 p.m. early dismissal that day, since it was the end of the quarter.
“FCPS is truly like a family; and as such, we are all deeply concerned about what happened,” said Garza. “I know this incident has affected the Woodson community and, as a district, we will provide as much support and assistance for students, staff members and families as is needed.”
NOTING that, with guidance from staff members, the evacuation went smoothly, she said, “For that we are truly grateful. We are very proud of the quick and calm actions of the Woodson leadership and staff.”
Furthermore, said Garza, “I want to extend a sincere thank you to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department for their rapid response and the outstanding treatment they provided to those who were injured, and to the Fairfax County Police Department for their presence at the scene. We are very fortunate to live in an area with outstanding, professional, safety experts, and appreciate all of their efforts [on Friday]. Please keep those injured in your thoughts and prayers.”