FIREBALL

Fire chief releases investigation results for Wilson Middle School fire

2013-01-23T15:49:00Z 2013-01-23T23:30:25Z Fire chief releases investigation results for Wilson Middle School fireBy Joseph Cress, The Sentinel The Sentinel
January 23, 2013 3:49 pm  • 

A final report issued Wednesday says that while a Wilson Middle School science teacher had no intention of hurting anyone, what he did during a Nov. 28 classroom experiment injured several students.

Teacher James Redington attempted to put out a fire in a beaker by pouring isopropyl alcohol into the beaker, said John Heberlig, chief of Carlisle Fire & Rescue Services.

Instead of smothering the fire, which is what Redington thought it would do, the alcohol caused fire to shoot out of the beaker toward the container the teacher was holding, Heberlig said.

The chief disputed part of Redington’s account. The teacher had said he didn’t know the alcohol would react the way it did, but Heberlig said that Redington should have known otherwise.

The chief explained that when Redington threw up his arm to avoid the fire, the alcohol came out of the container and went toward the students. The fire followed the alcohol, burning five students who were nearby.

Of the five students, two were flown to Johns Hopkins Burn Center. The fire sent Redington and two other students to the hospital for smoke inhalation. All the students have since returned to school.

District taking steps

Redington was placed on paid administrative leave shortly after the incident. The Sentinel reported Wednesday that the school board voted on Jan. 17 to change this status from paid to unpaid leave for the remainder of the school year.

The final report supports the findings of an internal investigation done by the Carlisle Area School District, Superintendent John Friend said. “It was very thorough. We don’t see any new information. It’s the same information we discovered during our interview with the teacher.”

The district is in the process of sharing the report findings with the parents of the injured children, Friend said. “The report is not going to do anything different.”

Friend explained how the district has already initiated a review of its science curriculum and classroom safety protocols along with additional safety training for science teachers. All faculty and staff members are receiving refresher training on the use and locations of fire extinguishers throughout their school buildings, the superintendent added.

This review of protocols is focused specifically on how and when chemicals are to be used and what precautions need to be taken, Friend said. He added the district is also reviewing chemical storage and disposal procedures.

Heberlig based his report on information received from both the students and Redington. On Dec. 5, the chief visited the school where he met with the teacher, Principal Colleen Friend, district solicitor Jim Flower and a teachers union representative.

At that time, Heberlig received a written statement from Redington on what happened during that fourth period science class on Nov. 28. He also asked the teacher questions on what he believed happened and why.

Through his investigation, Heberlig confirmed there were two experiments that class period. In the first experiment, Redington poured isopropyl alcohol onto a desk and then used a match to start a fire. He then showed the students that the fire was out.

Some students then asked if someone were to pour alcohol into a beaker, would the beaker explode. Redington said it would not, the report stated. He then poured some isopropyl alcohol from a plastic bottle into a beaker and then used a match to light a fire in the beaker, which did not explode.

Report findings

According to the report, a student then asked Redington what would happen if he poured more alcohol into a beaker with a flame. In his statement to Heberlig, the teacher said when he poured the rubbing alcohol into the beaker, he expected it to extinguish the flames by smothering the small surface area. Instead, the fire followed the stream of alcohol up into the bottle, igniting the contents inside and propelling flames outward into the classroom.

“I did not intend for anything to happen other than extinguishing the flames, and if I had thought there was any chance that it might do anything other than that, I would not have done it,” the report quoted Redington as saying.

In his report, Heberlig disputed part of Redington’s account. Heberlig said had the fire followed the alcohol stream up into the bottle, the bottle would have exploded or caught on fire, yet there was no damage to the bottle. The chief added Redington would have received burns, but the teacher said the only injury he suffered was a small cut or burn on a finger.

“With the alcohol he was using, he should (have) known it was flammable and what the flash point was and how adding more alcohol would not put out the fire,” Heberlig said of Redington. “I just feel that he was not sure what would happen before he did it.”

The chief concluded that Redington did not mean to do any damage or to hurt anyone. Heberlig believed the proper amount of time was taken to investigate the incident and derive a cause from statements he received from three students, photographs taken at the scene and information about 99 percent isopropyl alcohol he printed from the Internet.

Spots on some of the desks confirmed for Heberlig his findings that Redington threw up his arm to avoid the fire and, in the process, caused the alcohol to come out and fall on the desks.


Posted earlier on Cumberlink:

A final report from Carlisle Fire & Rescue Chief John Heberlig says that while a Wilson Middle School science teacher had no intention of hurting anyone, what he did during a science experiment Nov. 28 did cause injury to several students.

Heberlig said in his report, which was released this afternoon, that science teacher James Redington attempted to put out a fire in a beaker by pouring Isoprophyl alcohol into the beaker. Instead of smothering the fire, which is what Redington thought it would do, the  Isoprophyl alcohol caused the fire to shoot out of the beaker toward the container he was holding.

The report said Redington threw his arm up to avoid the fire, but the alcohol came out of the container in that motion and went toward the students. The fire followed the alcohol, burning the students who were nearby, according to Heberlig’s report.

Heberlig’s report is based on information he received from students and Redington, and he discussed what happened in a meeting with Redington, Principal Colleen Friend, solicitor Jim Flower and a representative from the teacher’s union for the investigation.

Copyright 2015 The Sentinel. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. m7110
    Report Abuse
    m7110 - February 19, 2013 5:29 pm
    Granted Mr. Redington should have known, but I do not solely blame him. I was in the class the day of the fire and I can tell you that before he added more he said that there was a chance that something could go wrong and that everyone had to back up to the front of the room. Do I blame Mr. Red, partly, but it could have also been avoided by them doing what he told them to do. I would not wish that on anyone but it was not entirely the fault of the teacher/
  2. sk1999
    Report Abuse
    sk1999 - January 24, 2013 6:24 am
    More importanly in this situation is the fact that no safety precautions were taken at any time during the demonstration. The two students that were taken to Baltimore were within 3-5 feet of the beaker. No protective gear was worn. Regardless of what Mr. Redington thought or expected to happen, he had a duty to make sure all the students were safe and he failed miserably at that.
  3. stworker2113
    Report Abuse
    stworker2113 - January 23, 2013 9:12 pm
    I am familiar with this experiment. 99.95% of the time it works as planned. You have to understand the physics involved. I have seen it work. Unfortunately, there is, as in all experiments, an element of risk. There is nothing malicious here, only an unfortunate accident. Normally, there is a science lesson learned, which is quite incredible and contradicts normal thought. It is unfortunate it ended this way.
  4. Zeldana
    Report Abuse
    Zeldana - January 23, 2013 5:00 pm
    Huh??? I am not s sicence teacher, but don't even most rubes know that alcohol is flammable??? Did I read this story correctly in that the science teacher beleived that dousing the flames in the beaker wth isopropyl alcohol would smother the flames?
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