More than 900 people evacuated, six hospitalized after gas leak at Medway school; more problems expected this evening
More than 900 people were evacuated and six were transported to the hospital after a gas leak at Medway High School, said Fire Chief Jeffrey Lynch.
Firefighters responded to the scene at 10 a.m. after kitchen workers called 911 when they noticed a strong smell of gas, Lynch said.
The overwhelming smell was the result of a malfunctioning computer at the town’s gas supply center that was injecting excessive odorant into the gas distributed throughout Medway, Lynch said.
Firefighters found three gas leaks at the school, but the smell was “extremely pronounced due to the odorant that was added,” he said.
One leak was in the school’s oven and two were in hot water furnaces.
“The extra odorant pronounced the leaks,” Lynch said. “It was probably a good thing. Had they gone undetected over a long period of time, then we could have other really serious issues.”
Of the 902 students and teachers that officials evacuated from the school, 14 complained of issues, Lynch said. Six people were transported to area hospitals by ambulance, five for illness related to the gas leaks and one for an unrelated reason, Lynch said.
He said the odorant is non-toxic, but is an irritant, he said. The extra odorant can cause headaches and other symptoms like those someone would experience if another person was wearing powerful perfume, Lynch said.
He said school officials evacuated the area quickly and firefighters handled the emergency effectively.
“Overall, everyone did a great job,” he said.
Firefighters were on scene for three hours. They found the leaks, monitored the levels of gas, ventilated the school, and treated people on scene, Lynch said.
“They released the kids because it was so late in the day and we still had to ventilate,” he said. “We wanted to eliminate any possible dangers from gas. They’re going to open school tomorrow.”
The extra odorant is causing problems across Medway, Lynch said.
“We’ve responded to seven gas incidents since last evening,” he said.
Firefighters located leaks at five of the seven locations.
Although the malfunctioning computer has been repaired, Lynch said the saturation of odor will take some time to work through the system.
He expects to get more calls this evening when families cook meals or use gas-fueled hot water heaters and smell the lingering extra odorant.
“We suggest that they call us and we’ll respond,” he said.Melissa Werthmann can be reached at email@example.com.