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Last week Wednesday, March 26th, there was a medical emergency involving 37 students and a staff member at ROCORI High School. There have been a number of stories circulated by both print and television media as to the facts and details of this emergency incident that involved 12 agencies and more than 50 firefighters.
In this 15 minute video story, you'll hear the moment by moment details of the incident from three important perspectives:
- Ken Kraemer, director of buildings/grounds who was working on the pool heating and filtering system
- Tim Dockendorf, a 9th grade student who was in the pool at the time
- Scott Staska, District Superintendent involved with all aspects of the emergency response
Letter Distributed Thursday, March 27th, 2008
Thank you for the notes, calls and your thoughts over the last two days. I, and the ROCORI District, appreciate your responses to our situation.
I know that each of you has asked for an update and/or information about the conditions at ROCORI. We completed a fairly "normal" day of school today for most of our students and staff. Everything seemed to go very well.
To the best of my knowledge and information, everyone who experienced symptoms from Wednesday should have short-lived conditions. None of the medical conditions were considered by medical staff to be critical in nature. A number of the students, including some of those held overnight at the hospital, returned to school today. Some students did not return to school today and/or did have to go home but were advised to have rest, take over-the-counter medications, and see how they felt after 24 hours.
I would offer the following information as a "summary" of what happened on Wednesday and what we have learned today.
As you are well aware, there was an "incident" on Wednesday in the pool area of the high school. As best we can determine, the waterpumps for the pool had been shut off for some maintenance work--for a period of about 10 minutes. The work that was done was to simply attach a fixture for a relief valve, but the work on the waterpipe was on the surface of the pipe and did not even enter the waterline itself. The waterline was opened to drain it, but there was no work done inside the pipe.
When the water was turned back on, the fixtures or jets in the pool "bubbled" before the water was flowing smoothly--much as what happens when you first turn on a water hose, for example. Although there were no dangerous chemicals released into the pool, for some reason this bubbling effect caused a reaction among students and staff. A number of students and the physical education teacher experienced sickness and symptoms of dry, scratchy throats, red eyes and some experienced nausea. A few students came out of the class and reported to the nurse's office. Shortly after, a number of others were directed to the nurse office and, because of sheer numbers and uncertainty of the issue, a 911 call was placed by the school resource officer.
As the emergency response teams arrived at the building, they encountered the large number of students coming out of the physical education class without a known cause for the symptoms. We were directed, and rightfully so given the unknown issues, to evacuate the building as a precautionary measure until the problem could be identified.
The local emergency response teams called in the St. Cloud Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Unit to assist--on the assumption that there was a chlorine gas leak. We do not, however, have any chlorine gas on site so that could not have been the cause. The Haz Mat unit conducted their work in the building and reported, shortly after 4:00, that the pool area, in particular, and the building overall had an air quality of zero parts per million for hazardous chemicals.
Once the air quality was determined, the custodial team returned to the building. Ken Kraemer, our Director of Buildings and Grounds, did a water check in the pool and the quality of the water was exactly as it should be--which was consistent with the testing on Tuesday and earlier Wednesday morning. (Our custodial staff checks the pool levels and balance on a daily basis.) Because of the "chemical concerns" reported by the emergency officials, the Department of Agriculture and the Fire Marshall were dispatched to the building. Both agencies gave approval to continue business as usual.
We also learned, from Commercial Pools (the company from whom we purchase our pool supplies--and who regularly assist with pool monitoring) that we had a maximum of 20 gallons of liquid chlorine on our site. They explained to us that the entire 20 gallons could have been dumped into the pool without any significant risk to anyone--the additional chlorine would have been absorbed into the water without incident.
In addition to the reports on Wednesday, we have had a number of other agencies out to the district to review our systems and operations. The Stearns County Department of Health pool certification team, along with the Public Works official from the City of Cold Spring, were here this morning and confirmed that there was not enough liquid chlorine on hand to have caused any kind of disturbance in the pool. The Stearns County staff also watched the custodial staff go through all of the steps that had occurred on Wednesday, operated all of the valves, opened and closed all of the safety systems, examined the entire pool supply system, and concluded that all features were (and are) fully operational and functioned exactly as they are supposed to function.
The Minnesota Department of Health had an inspector on site today reviewing all of the same information. The conclusion of the Department of Health was consistent with each of the other agencies--all systems are functioning properly, all safety features were working fully, and the level of liquid chlorine was such that an incident with chlorine could not have occurred.
We had excellent response, yesterday from the high school staff in evacuating the building, moving students to Cold Spring Elementary, in monitoring movement around the building, and working through the situation. We had excellent cooperation from CSE in allowing the high school students to be relocated to the gym. Our bus contractors did an excellent job of getting to the school early and making some adjustments to get students home properly. The good news is that a "test" of our emergency response system worked in excellent fashion!
At this time, the building is clear. There are no chemical concerns to which we need to attend. We will continue to work through the custodial staff to monitor our pool operations, but everything was functioning perfectly. We certainly do not know what happened to make people ill, but we do know that all of the operations of the pool are performing exactly as expected and required.
ROCORI School District Superintendent
View Original Story and On-Site DigElogROCORI coverage.