Gas leak forces school to evacuate

Published 2:32 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
Escambia County High School administrators, teachers and students had a scare Monday afternoon when they were forced to evacuate for nearly two hours.
Fortunately no one was injured during the evacuation and school resumed just after 2 p.m.
The culprit was a busted natural gas line on the schools property.
"A construction company was doing some work at the school and they pulled up a big, two-inch gas pipe that was leaking real bad and was real close to the school," Atmore Fire Department chief Gerry McGhee said. "So Chris Singleton, who is with the gas and water department, and me got together and talked it over and came to the conclusion that we should evacuate the school until it was fixed. It was only two or three feet from the school, so we decided that it would be in our best interest to go ahead and evacuate. We didn't think anything would happen, but you never know. We just wanted to be on the safe side."
As a result of the evacuation, a portion of Presley Street between the high school and Food Fair from the corner of Lindberg Ave. was blocked off by Atmore Police Department officers to assure the safety of the students and workers on site.
"When you've got a major gas leak like that everybody working around it has to turn their radios off and everything else off because any kind of little spark would ignite it," McGhee said.
Atmore Gas &Water Department manager Tom Wolfe said his crews followed proper procedures.
"My crews most definitely did the right thing," he said. "That's the standard safety precaution when you have a gas leak of that magnitude. You want to make sure that all lives are protected. Even if it's close, you've got to evacuate. There's no reason you wouldn't evacuate. The alternative is real scary if you don't."
The fire department received the call at 12:35 p.m. and was on the scene in three minutes. From the time the initial call was received, the entire school was completely evacuated in less than 15 minutes.
"The administration at Escambia High did a good job evacuating, I can't say enough about them," McGhee said.
ECHS principal Kyle Ferguson commended his staff and students on a job well done.
"Our kids did a real good job; Mr. (David) McKinley, who is in charge of school safety, did a good job in letting everybody know what was going on, as did, our other assistant principal Jerome Antone," he said. "It was a unique evacuation because that area is normally the area where we evacuate students to when we evacuate the building, but our students and teachers responded very well and we rerouted our evacuation routes and got everybody in a safe area very quickly."
Ferguson explained that each administrator has a specific area of the school that they are in charge of evacuating and clearing.
"It also happened at a bad time," Ferguson added. "We do drills once a month, but when an actual emergency occurs it's never at a convenient time and when we do our drills we try to mix the times up."
The evacuation took place following the high school's first wave of lunches. The students that didn't have the opportunity to eat prior to the emergency had the opportunity to eat when the school was cleared to re-enter at 2:10 p.m.
"As soon as we were allowed to re-enter, we went straight back to the second lunch wave," Ferguson said. "We had about an hour left in the day and we did get to see all of our classes."
The Gas &Water Department had to use a backhoe to dig the gas line up and repair it, which is a tedious job.
"It took them a while to get to it, but once they did it didn't take them long to fix it," McGhee said. "It had too much pressure coming off of it, so they had to put a valve on the end of a piece of pipe and put it on there to get the pressure off while they fixed it."
Not only was the school affected by the gas leak, but so was one of Atmore's restaurants.
"Our crews were able to get the kitchen at the school back on before they went home," Wolfe said. "Jalisco was also cut off and we got them back up and running at 6:30 p.m., so they could have their regular business."

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