CO detectors not required in schools

Posted at: 01/31/2013 6:48 PM
Updated at: 02/24/2014 7:06 PM
By: Elaine Houston

When most people think about safety in schools, they're usually concerned with preventing someone from bringing in a gun.

Recently we witnessed a threat that is a lot more subtle, yet it can be just as deadly. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, but it's toxic.

It's a frightening sight for any parent -- ambulances surrounding an elementary school in Atlanta -- but this threat came from within, not outside the building. Last December more than 40 students and several teachers were overcome by carbon monoxide.

NewsChannel 13 asked fire safety consultant Pete Lattanzio if what's called "the silent killer" could be a threat at a school here in the Capital Region.

"Absoutely, it could happen here," Lattanzio said.

We went out to see if school districts were prepared and equipped with carbon monoxide detectors to prevent what happened in Atlanta from happening here.

At the Mohanasen Central School District they are prepared.

"If it makes sense in your home where you have small children, why wouldn't it make sense in the school district?" said Joseph Mayo, the director of facilities at Mohonasen.

In the Bethlehem School District and in the Vooresville Central School District they too have carbon monoxide detectors.

"We felt it was in the best interest, that for safety precautions, to have CO detectors in both campuses," said Michael Goyer, the Vooresville transportation, operations and maintenance supervisor.

However, NewsChannel 13 found districts that don't have any. Why don't all schools have them too? Quite simply, they don't have to. The state Education Department does not require schools to have carbon monoxide detectors.   

Lattanzio says that's no reason not to  be pro-active.

"I don't want to see anyone overcome, sick or killed. If it is a matter of putting something into law, it's a no-brainer," he said

Because there's such a lack of uniformity, would legislation help ensure students in all schools are protected?  Or would schools consider it just another mandate? 

NewsChannel 13 wanted to pose those questions to the state School Boards Association but, they declined our request for an interview.

Several state lawmakers think detectors should be mandatory and have introduced bills since 2003, but none ever made it out of committee.

In Atlanta, it was workers failing to re-open a boiler valve that caused the incident.

"Had there been detectors in this school it would have told people something isn't right," said Lattanzio.

However, legislation has to be tied to education. Fporty-seven employees and customers of the Log Jam Restaurant in Queensbury were sickened in 2007 by carbon monoxide from a faulty heater.

In response to that, Albany County required detectors in all food service establishments, which includes schools.

So the Albany School District has a least one detector in every building and some classrooms, but we found a district in Albany County unaware of the regulation. After we notified them, they got detectors. 

Another example of the need for education, many of the schools we found that had detectors had them in the boiler room. Lattanzio says they should be moved.

”If that detector goes off, you won't hear it. It needs to be where people are to warn them to get out of the building," said Lattanzio.