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Grandview superintendent pleased with schools' response to chemical fire

GRANDVIEW - Grandview School District Superintendent Kevin Chase hit the road running during last week's emergency that basically shut down the town.

Chase and two others on his administrative team were on the road when they received the first calls that a chemical fire had broken out at the Wilbur-Ellis chemical plant on Wine Country Road. Chase and his staff were driving back from Seattle, which followed a trip to New York, where they were stranded a couple of extra days because of a massive snow storm on the East Coast.

Chase is quick to point out the quick and decisive action of his other staff members that made the incident go smoothly for all concerned.

"They did a really good job," said Chase. "It went well."

Chase also credits the decisive action of Brad Shreeve, director of business and technology, and Grandview High School Assistant Principal Matt Mallery, in dealing with the situation.

Chase said about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet called the central office, informing school officials about the chemical fire that had released toxic, but non-life threatening chemicals into the air.

After the call from the police chief, the decision was made to bring all of the students into the school buildings and shut off the ventilation system.

Chase said the district nurses were called in to deal with students who may be experiencing respiratory problems or feeling ill.

Despite the timing of the incident, nothing much went wrong, said Chase. Chase said students were kept in the school buildings until the end of the regular school day. He did say it was a bit trying keeping track of the students, since the school schedules in Grandview run at staggered times.

The school district did keep the students who lived within the half-mile evacuation zone at the schools until their parents came. Chase said the other students not living within those boundaries were allowed to go home. The schools were empty of students by 4 p.m., said Chase.

The county health department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that Grandview cancel school the next day (Thursday), said Chase. This was done out of concern for not knowing what kind of chemicals were in the air.

"It was really unknown," said Chase.

School was also canceled on Friday because the county health department recommended that EPA officials test the air quality in all of the district buildings before allowing students back in.

One of the two school days missed in Grandview will be made up Friday, Feb. 18, said Chase. The district is still determining when to make-up the second missed day.

"We have some flexibility on that," said Chase.

Chase said he didn't hear any complaints of how the district handled the situation. But he did admit that the district needs to address how to be able to better communicate with one another. He explained the district only has 26 main phone lines. He said it was difficult for his office and the community to communicate with the different buildings when the incident happened. For parents, Chase said the best bet when an incident such as this happens is to contact the school their child attends to find out information.

Chase said the district is looking at possibly purchasing radios or separate telephones that can be hooked up onto a separate line on the back of each fax machine. Chase said this way he would be able to have a direct line into each building.

The district is in the process of updating its emergency plan, said Chase. Grandview, along with six other school districts, is utilizing a grant from Educational Service District #105 to work on emergency plans.

Another one of his goals in dealing with emergencies is for the school district to have more input on what happens with the buildings during these situations.

Chase said he would also like to work more with the different media organizations. Chase said during the incident there was a lot of false information that got out that the district did not release.

"There were things we had to react to that didn't come from us," said Chase.

Chase said other school districts were very helpful during the emergency. He said officials from the Sunnyside, Wapato and Prosser school districts all offered their assistance during the situation.

Overall, Chase thought his staff handled the situation well.

"It really helps you prepare for the next time," said Chase. "It did go well. There is always ways to improve."

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