South Texas College Technology Campus Evacuated for Chemical Spill

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 8:31am

MCALLEN - The sound of a fire alarm is the same for a hazardous spill. Either way, it is an alarm that means get outside of the building you are in currently.

When this alarm went off this morning, students, faculty, and staff were all evacuated from South Texas College Technology Campus.

"Well this morning at about 8-15 a-m an alarm went off which identified some kind of a chemical that was infiltrating our air-conditioning system," said Paul Varville, STC Security Director.

The alarm went off in the college's cooling building, which is where the air conditioning unit is located. And when campus security arrived, they cam upon an unusual sight.

"There was a foam about four feet high and also a very dint smell," said Varville.

The McAllen Fire Department was there within minutes and put their Hazmat Team into action. But after some investigation, the scene was deemed less threatening because it was a confined chemical spill.

"Apparently the school changed vendors when it comes to their chemicals for their chilling, for the water chillers that they have. Uh the previous vendor was using a bromine-based chemical and the new vendor was using a chlorine-based chemical. And when the two chemicals reacted it off-gassed bromine and chlorine gas," said Capt. Michael Hernandez, McAllen Fire Department.

So the fire fighters suited up and went inside to make sure there were no other dangers.

What the firefighters responded to was a chemical spill, not a hazmat spill. But either way they have to wear protective gear. The main thing that they need is an air mask, which provides them with regular air, that you breathe outside, so when they go into fume filled spaces they are comfortable.

Even though the gases aren't deadly, they were too strong to breath comfortably. McAllen firefighters commend STC for their alarm system and how quickly they provided the necessary security plans to address the chemical spill. 

"Any building that has an air-conditioning system should have their proper precautions which should include having an alarm in there, which will detect if a chemical or a fire is about to break out," said Varville.

This small alarm is so important because it gives everyone inside, like today, the time to evacuate safely and prevent injury.

The STC Technology Campus will remain closed for today, but will re-open tomorrow.

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