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Helen Keller Boiler Belches Smoke ... Again

A boiler malfunction that sent white smoke streaming from the roof of Easton’s Helen Keller Middle School on Sunday was the third major heating system incident at the school in seven years, according to police records.

The problem was attributed to the breakdown of a rubberized part that caused five gallons of fuel oil to spill onto the floor, with additional oil sprayed into the boiler and the exhaust flu, Easton police said.

A nearby resident reported the smoke to police at 8:57 a.m. The fire department arrived on scene to disable the boiler and ventilate the building.

Easton schools were required to contact four different companies to fix the boiler, clean up the mess and test the air quality afterwards, said Peggy Sullivan , director of school finance and operations. "We're hoping it's all covered [by insurance],” she said.

In 2004, black smoke was seen pouring from the boiler's exhaust, and in 2007 there was a similar malfunction. None of the other schools or public buildings have had comparable incidents.

The fire department is regularly called to Helen Keller for minor boiler problems, according to volunteer firefighter Mike Sabia .

Sullivan estimated the school’s two boilers are 10 to 15 years old. A fire department spokesman, however, said the boilers were likely older.

Once a year, the boilers are maintained by Edgerton, Inc., from Monroe. The school's custodians are responsible for the daily maintenance, and Sullivan said that they are sufficiently trained to do so. "Normally [the part that malfunctioned] will start to make a noise, and at that point in time you shut the boiler down," Sullivan said, adding that this particular part is often changed.

Custodians were present at the school until 6 p.m. Saturday, and reported no sign of problems with the boiler, Sullivan said.

After the incident, Edgerton was on site for three consecutive days to manage the cleanup and repairs. Industrial Health and Safety is slated to report its air quality findings to the school administration soon.

Both boilers are functioning normally, Sullivan said.

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