Gas leak sends Westwood students and staff into prolonged evacuation

Amanda Acosta, Editor-in-Chief

On Wednesday, October 22, 2021 at approximately 8:00 a.m., students and staff at Westwood Regional High School were evacuated from the building due to a strong gas smell coming from the science wing of the school. After investigation from local law enforcement and fire department officials, it was determined that the source of the smell came from a leaking gas valve. There was no damage caused to the building and none of the students or staff members were harmed during the evacuation. 

Principal Frank Connelly was at the forefront of this situation, eventually making the final call to evacuate students and staff. Connelly was informed of a gas smell coming from the science wing around 7:50 a.m. He then took the next steps to investigate the source of the smell: “We then called an evacuation to get everyone out of the building. We called over to the police, they called the fire department, we called PSE&G.”

Connelly noted that safety was his main concern. “We make sure that every student is out of the building and as far away as possible,” he said. The principal directed all students to the athletic field, a farther location than the usual evacuation route. Students and staff remained there for approximately forty minutes while emergency personnel evaluated the situation inside the building. 

All of the assistant principals were evacuated from the building as well, to assure that everything remained safe and orderly outside of the building. Connelly, however, remained inside, to assist the emergency officials and oversee the situation. He said, “I watch everything they do, they ask me any questions they might have. Once I show them the room and once they get here it’s sort of out of my hands.”

In the end, it was the firefighters and the police who determined it was safe to issue students and staff back into the school. A gas valve in the science wing was identified to be leaking and it was promptly shut off, allowing for a safe return inside the building. 

This valve has yet to be fixed, but Connelly assured that it will be repaired soon. In the meantime, the staff at Westwood Regional High School is taking precautions to prevent an event like this from happening again. To get a better understanding of how much gas is used in science classrooms to determine if additional maintenance is needed, Connelly emailed each science teacher in the building and asked about the frequency of their gas usage. 

In addition to this, certain science teachers are designated to oversee chemical and gas safety in their area of the building. Connelly noted that chemistry teacher, Alycia McKaba, checks lab equipment and gas valves to make sure that everything is shut off correctly on a routine basis. All science teachers in the building have keys to the gas sources in their rooms to turn them on and off, but Connelly also checked that each of these gas sources were turned off before allowing students and staff to re-enter the building.