Fire Department investigators have cited Beacon High School in Manhattan for eight violations, finding that dangerous chemicals were being stored unsafely and that safety equipment and practices were lacking in at least three rooms. One was the makeshift lab where two students were engulfed in flames last week when a chemistry demonstration went horribly awry.
The department gave the school, which is on the Upper West Side, 10 days to correct some of the violations of fire and building codes, and 30 days for others. But it did not issue a “cease and desist” order, which could have closed the teaching labs, James Long, a Fire Department spokesman, said on Wednesday.
The state Labor Department is also investigating the accident and its context, state officials said, because regulations require safety equipment like chemical fume hoods when teachers handle potentially explosive flammable liquids and toxic chemicals in the workplace. There was none in Room 317, a “science demo room,” where Alonzo Yanes, 16, was badly burned when fumes from the methanol used by a teacher to burn different substances ignited. Alonzo remained in critical condition on Wednesday in the burn unit of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The other student suffered relatively minor burns.
The Fire Department violations, issued to the principal, Ruth Lacey, also focused on the chemical storage room, Room 331; the school was ordered to immediately reduce the supply of hazardous chemicals to the amounts allowed by law, including no more than 15 gallons of flammable liquids and no more than five pounds of toxic substances. In a formal science laboratory, Room 321, the school was ordered to provide a safety shower and eye wash for decontamination, and to show that a chemical fume hood there was being tested annually for safe ventilation of dangerous fumes...It is a funny aspect of American life that regulators always seem to show up after an incident and rarely before; also, they tend to regulate equipment and logistics rather than people*. Of all their concerns, only the fume hood would be been helpful in this particular situation.
Something tells me that New York public high schools are about to have some surprise inspections, either by FDNY or by the city Education Department. Should be interesting to follow.
*It's probably actually their statuary authority that does that.