State Fire Marshal closes case in MGJH fire incident

BY ALICIA MILLER

alicia.miller@ecm-inc.com

The case in regards to the fire incident that happened last December at Maple Grove Junior High School was closed by the State Fire Marshal May 17.

The fire left four ninth grade students burned from a Dec. 1 accident that involved flammable gas in a physical science classroom at the school.

One of those students sustained severe burns and was kept at Hennepin County Medical Center instead of being released that same day like the other three students.

The investigation by the State Fire Marshal found that small flash fires occurred Dec. 1 while instructor Matthew Achor was demonstrating experiments involving methyl alcohol, a flammable liquid, that was being poured into a large blue plastic bottle. This bottle was rolled around on the ground to maximize the vaporization process and then the mixture was ignited, according to the State Fire Marshal’s investigation report.

The investigation report also states it appeared a natural gas outlet used in a prior experiment was not totally shut off, which would have allowed natural gas to gather between the plastic funnel attached to a rubber house and the ceiling, which also ignited.

During the investigation of the room just following the accident, a fire blanket had been used and so had a fire extinguisher.

The report stated there was a clear plastic splash guard on the floor between two instructor tables in the west area of the room. The report added if the splash guard had been between the students and the incident, most of the heat blast should have been directed upward and back toward the instructor. The report said, "The most significant heat force of the incident was generally toward the east and the student, thus injuring some of the students." Achor did have a small heat mark on his hand.

Barb Olson, spokesperson for the Osseo School District, said after the accident the district took several actions to help ensure an incident like this would not happen again.

"We immediately suspended that particular demonstration," she said. "We conducted a comprehensive audit of all science classroom demonstrations and developed lists of approved and non-approved demonstrations. We created a protocol for reviewing and approving new demonstrations. We added some videos to complement and enhance the safety training the school district was already providing."

The week of May 14th the Osseo Area School District completed an audit of the school’s science demonstrations.

New practices for the district are also now in place regarding science demonstrations, which teach science concepts. Sometimes that means the use of combustible materials, said Olson. "What’s important is that these teaching demonstrations are conducted in a way that promotes safety of students and staff," she added.

The audit resulted in a list of approved and non-approved demonstrations, a protocol for approving any new demonstrations and more professional development for science teachers to complement and enhance the training that is already provided, Olson said.

"These outcomes of the audit will help ensure that we, as a school district, are taking proactive and prudent measures to maintain a safe environment for students and staff."

As for science teacher Matthew Achor, Olson said May 24 he still remains on administrative leave and will stay on leave "pending the conclusion of our internal investigation.

Both the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the Maple Grove Police Department are not presenting any charges relative to the case. The Maple Grove Fire Department, Maple Grove Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Crime Lab assisted in the Dec. 1 incident investigation.

up arrow