Saturday, October 31, 2015

High School Chem Lab Fire Sends Six to Hospital

Six injured in chemistry classroom fire at Woodson High School in Fairfax
An ordinary chemistry class erupted into chaos Friday morning as five students and a teacher were injured in a fire during a classroom activity at W.T. Woodson High, one of Fairfax County’s top-performing schools.

The students were injured seriously enough to be taken to the hospital, two of them flown by helicopter to hospitals in the District. They were in “serious condition” but did not have life-threatening injuries when they were hospitalized, according to Chief Richard Bowers of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

But later Friday afternoon, one of the students was listed in critical condition and was in surgery at Children’s Hospital, according to Capt. Randy Bettinger, a fire department spokesman. A spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Center said that doctors there are treating one patient who was in fair condition.

Three others were taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital. The classroom teacher suffered minor burns, according to fire officials, and was treated at the scene and has been speaking to investigators.
So what the heck were they doing?
Details of the mishap were not yet clear, but several students who said they were in the class at the time of the fire described a regular chemistry experiment that went awry: They said the chemistry teacher was demonstrating how the color of fire can change when something suddenly went wrong. They said several students near the experiment were engulfed in flames.
I hear flames get really yellow and red when you throw gasoline into them. But I wouldn't know anything about that. . .

As paranoid as school administrators are in this day and age, I'm surprised that a chemistry class would have a lab involving open flames.

I remember in the good old days of junior high, we had a lab where we heated red mercuric oxide in a test tube to disassociate it, and produce elemental mercury (as a gas which condensed on the inside of the test tube as a silvery coat) and oxygen, which we tested for by taking a piece of wood, like a little Popsicle stick, setting it on fire, blowing it out, and sticking it in the test tube, where the extra oxygen would cause it to burst into flame again.

I can't imagine that being done today. And that's a shame.

1 comment:

  1. In high school, I had a basic chemistry class, and A.P. chemistry class, and a summer organic chemistry class. By today's standards, most of the actual labs would be taboo. We didn't have fume hoods, did everything on open soapstone lab benches, rinsed our glassware in benzene or toluene, and flushed everything down the built in sink drains, that no doubt went into the municipal sewer system. We made thermite, did electrolysis of water (making hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, then recombining it with combustion, reduced silver nitrate to make mirrored surfaces, played with elemental mercury.

    It was a lot of fun. Too bad many kids won't get similar experiences in modern schools. It's a wonder kids learn anything.