Chemistry lab fire leads to revisons

In the wake of the chemistry classroom fire on Oct. 30 at W.T. Woodson High School FCPS has revised its open flame policy in science classrooms county wide. The use of flames is temporarily suspended. Additionally, all high school science teachers in the school system must complete a review science safety course covering lab safety and procedures before open flames can be reinstated into the county’s curriculum.

“I think that taking out the use of open flames in science classrooms is extreme, well not extreme, but I think that we just need to use caution,” Biology teacher Rachel Lazar said. “It’s just a matter of following procedures. I’m not sure of any of the particulars, but it’s just making sure that everyone is clear on the them.”

The fire’s impact was especially prominent because of Woodson’s close proximity to the Annandale community and the friendships many students have with students there.

Of the 31 students in the classroom, five were injured by the flames. Two of the students were airlifted to Washington Burn Center, where one was rushed into surgery in critical condition and the other was monitored in stable condition. The three other students were diagnosed with minor burns and taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where they were released later that day. The injured teacher was treated at the scene.

After a thorough investigation the fire was ruled accidental, as a direct result of a chemical demonstration showing how fire changes color when reacting with different metals. The experiment, called the ‘rainbow fire experiment’, is under scrutiny as it has been known to cause safety issues in the past. Experts have urged schools and museums to stop the demonstration as a precaution.

“The school was upset but Woodson has had things like this happen in the past,” said Woodson junior Mary Dodd, “so we knew the drill.”

The building was evacuated immediately after the fire began, relocating students and staff to the football field. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department was called immediately, reporting to the scene just minutes after the fire began.

About half the classroom was damaged by fire, smoke and water, which was repaired for the students’ arrival back to school on Wednesday, Nov. 4 and classes were resumed there. The estimated total for the cost of all the damage was around $7,500.

“There was a lot of commotion,” Woodson junior Randall Prosperi said. “The whole experience just makes you realize how important safety guidelines are.”

Three of the fire victims returned to school on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Another was released from the hospital on Sunday, Nov. 1 and the fifth student underwent surgery last week on her arm and is recovering. The two teachers in the room at the time of the incident are on leave and are recovering at home.

Woodson, as well of the rest of the community, has rallied around those injured and affected by the fire. Twitter, as well as other social media sites, was filled with prayers and condolences for the victims, using the hashtag “#cavstrong” across the county.

“We’ve made posters for everyone who was hurt and for the teachers that were in the room,” Dodd said. “We’ve also been praying a lot.”

Woodson has had grief counselors available for those traumatized by the event and are hoping to resume normality among students and staff.