Denver Teacher’s High School Chemistry Demonstration Injures Four Students

Fire alarm
Four Denver high school students are recovering from injuries after an 11th-grade chemistry teacher’s demonstration with methenol resulted in an explosive fire.Three of the students were treated at local hospitals and allowed to go home. It’s likely they’ll be treated by dermatologists, who deal with skin conditions from burns to simple acne, which affects about 40-50 million Americans.

But the fourth student’s injuries were severe enough that they had to be transferred to another facility, according to Lindsay Neil, a spokeswoman for the Science, Math and Arts Academy charter school. She told the Denver Post that she didn’t have more details on that student’s condition, but Denver Fire Department spokesman Mark Watson reported that the injuries were serious.

The teacher’s name was not released but Neil was able to tell the Denver Post that his hands were injured and he declined medical treatment. She also said he’d conducted the same demonstration several times without incident the week before, and no students were handling the materials when the fire occurred. Student David Mathis, who was in the room, told Denver’s local news channel 7News that the fire climbed to the ceiling and spread to the back wall, injuring the students who were sitting near it.

“I only saw one of the students, but his skin was peeling off, and it looked like at least second-degree burns all over,” the student said. “We were all just chaotic. We were trying to figure out what just happened. We just saw fire everywhere in the room, too, and we were just trying to put it out and help the students.”

The fire burned itself out before it could spread to other classrooms, and other students were able to return to class the same day.

This marks the second time this month that science demonstrations involving methanol were linked to a fire. Thirteen people, including several children, were injured at a Museum in Reno, Nev. when an improperly set up tornado simulation resulted in a flash fire.

A warning against using methanol in demonstrations was issued on Monday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board as a result of the fire in Nevada, but its unclear if the Denver teacher would have had access to the warning before the fire occurred, early in the school day.

The teacher’s employment status at SMART Academy will be reviewed once the fire department and Denver Public School’s investigations have concluded.

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