A snow-clogged air vent caused carbon monoxide to infiltrate Sharon Elementary School, forcing students from their classrooms Wednesday morning.
At least 38 children, including some who were momentarily unconscious, and one teacher were transported to two hospitals in Orem and Provo with minor carbon-monoxide poisoning. About 60 children suffered dizziness, nausea and headaches."Nobody seems to be critical, although we had some that were passing out," Orem Fire Capt. John Van Orman said.
Air vents to the boiler system in the 44-year-old school were plugged with snow, causing carbon monoxide to fill the school, he said. School was closed for the day while crews cleared away the snow and inspected the building.
Principal Muffet Reeves became aware of the problem about 9:15 a.m. when a first-grade teacher told her three students passed out. A student in another classroom fainted a short time later.
Reeves quickly announced that teachers were to evacuate the school and make sure students took their coats, gloves and hats.
"They were out of the building faster than I ever seen them. They knew it was not a drill," Reeves said, her voice raspy from having stayed in the school until everyone got out safely. She then called 911. Reeves also made arrangements with a parent to open a nearby LDS church as temporary shelter.
Paramedics set up triage for sick students in a satellite classroom. They treated children with oxygen and called for additional oxygen from several neighboring public safety agencies. Ambulances from Provo, Orem and Pleasant Grove transported children to hospitals.
Students who did not become ill were sent to the church one block from the school. Older students walked to the church, while younger students rode buses Alpine School District dispatched to the school, 525 N. 400 East.
Reeves said the school put its "rainbow" emergency plan into action. The evacuation was orderly, and a telephone calling tree alerted parents to the emergency. Reeves said teachers performed admirably in getting the school's 550 students to safety.
"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of these children," said Alpine Superintendent Steven C. Baugh. "The principal and teachers acted quickly and wisely to get medical attention to the children and to get them removed to a safe place."
Snow and ice from recent heavy storms are probably to blame for blocked air vents. Snow piled on the roof may have prevented vents and intakes from functioning properly.
"At this point, it appears to be a freak accident of nature," Baugh said.
District officials said the clogged vents may have caused carbon monoxide from the boiler to be pumped through ducts to all areas of the school. The incident happened just after school started about 8 a.m.
Baugh said district officials will investigate the incident to determine if there's anything they could have done to avoid the problem. Van Orman said it would be good idea for "anyone and everyone" to check heater vents for snow.
District officials said the school would remain closed throughout the day Wednesday but likely will reopen Thursday. The school's boiler and duct system has had no problems in the past, district spokesman Michael Robinson said.