News

Memory of fire spurs action

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools is upgrading and adding equipment to 27 science labs at its four largest high schools following a consultant’s recommendations.

The School Board approved a contract this month for McKinstry Co. of Seattle to complete the work. The contract is for about $125,000 and is the result of a fire last year during a classroom experiment.

In January 2004, a science teacher and three students were injured in a Federal Way High School classroom when a routine chemistry experiment went awry. Ingrid Lyden, the teacher, was showing how mineral salts cause different colors in the environment. According to witnesseses, Lyden lit five –– after adding methanol –– without incident. The sixth one, however, exploded and flames reached into the front row of the classroom.

Most students ran. Lyden’s hair, shoulder and arm were on fire. Student Thomas Padillo was credited with putting out the flames by using his jacket.

Lyden and one student were treated at a Seattle hospital for burns. Two other students had less severe injuries.

Lyden has resumed teaching.

The contractor is installing safety equipment like eye wash stations and emergency showers, along with purge fans and ground fault outlets, according to Rod Leland, the school district’s facilities director.

Some of the rooms will have more work done than others, he said. Thomas Jefferson High is having seven rooms worked on, while Decatur High has eight rooms and Todd Beamer High has six.

After the accident, the state’s Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) reviewed the safety of the high school’s labs and found hazards it required district officials to attend to before an August 2004 deadline. The district asked the state agency to inspect the high school.

The issues included:

• Finishing a chemical hygiene plan the district was working on at the time of the lab accident.

• Not testing emergency showers and eyewashes on a regular basis.

• Lack of fume hood containment.

• Several bottles of acids and bases stored on the floor of a fume hood and obstructing air flow, not sampling the air for formaldehyde, and pouring an acid into an open beaker and carrying it uncovered through a classroom doorway.

Diane Seeley, the district’s risk manager, said the district complied with DLI’s requirements.

Also, funding was put into the 2004-05 school district budget for a science coordinator at the district level to implement changes to the labs and practices. Now there are two positions –– one to oversee the curriculum and the second for making the lab alterations.

One of the curriculum changes has been dropping the experiment that resulted in the explosion and fire. Seeley said a review of the new learning requirements led the district to conclude the experiment no longer fit. It was prohibited across the district after the 2004 accident.

The district hired a private consultant to fill the science coordinator post. The consultant recommended the update in safety equipment and electrical outlets. A district employee is filling the curriculum advisor position.

The district wasn’t violating any law or codes by not having the safety equipment in the classrooms, but the recommendations were based on “best practices” for science labs, Leland said.

Some science rooms in the district are being fitted with equipment even though they aren’t used for experiments. Leland explained the district was making the changes now in case experiments are conducted in the future. The work at Todd Beamer, the district’s newest high school, falls in this category.

The project is expected to take four weeks to complete.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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