School fire alarm leaves teen with frostbite
By Mila Koumpilova
ST. PAUL -- A St. Paul student in a wet swimsuit spent 10 bone-chilling minutes outside her school Wednesday when a false fire alarm interrupted her class in the school’s swimming pool.
When smoke from a science project triggered a fire alarm at Como Park Senior High School, freshman Kayona Tietz ended up outside barefoot in her wet bathing suit and a towel. Her mother, Eva Tietz, took to the district’s Facebook page to criticize the district’s handling of the incident, saying the girl suffered minor frostbite to her feet.
Kayona, 14, and the school district have different versions of the run-up to the evacuation. In any case, said St. Paul Fire Marshall Steve Zaccard, the incident was unusual and could have been prevented.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it doesn’t make any sense to evacuate kids who are soaking wet from a swimming pool into these temperatures when there’s no evidence of smoke or fire in that part of the building,” he said. “That could be dangerous.”
Temperatures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were a few degrees below zero at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The district said about 30 students were in a Como Park High physical education class at that time.
“When the fire alarm went off, the teacher advised students in the pool to quickly dress and get outside,” wrote Julie Schultz Brown, the district’s communications director, in an email. “Two students chose not to.”
Schultz Brown said parents of the two students were contacted after the incident and offered health services at the school, but they declined.
Kayona said she and another student lingered in the pool during free swim time at the end of the class. At that point, she said, students were free to start getting dressed — and most had left for the locker room.
“When the fire alarm went off, we got out of the pool immediately,” she said.
The other student’s clothes were by the pool, Kayona said, but hers were in the locker room. She said that as students were walking out, a friend ran back to the locker room to retrieve some of Kayona’s clothes. But the door was already locked.
Outside, a fellow student gave her a sweatshirt to wrap her feet. Students and a couple of staff members huddled around her to keep her warm.
“We all tried to stay warm together,” Kayona said.
Eventually, a teacher led Kayona to her car, where she stayed until the evacuation was over. Eva Tietz said she drove her daughter to her family physician.
Zaccard said the fire department got a call from the school at 8:47 a.m. Before crews arrived at the school, the department received another call to say the fire had been a false alarm. One crew continued on to the school and found that smoke from a heated-wax experiment had set off the alarm.
Zaccard said the school is equipped with only a partial sprinkler system, which might have added to the sense of urgency in evacuating students.
Tietz said she was “beyond upset” when she picked up her daughter Wednesday: “I feel the district failed to keep my child safe in the cold weather.”
Tietz said she appreciated a call from the school Thursday, saying staff is looking into ways to prevent a repeat of her daughter’s experience in the future.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.