Pictured: Fire trucks and firefighters on the scene of a gas leak on campus this morning. From MCFRS Public Information Officer.
By Rachel Taylor, Editor in Chief
Around 9:45 this morning, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue received a call about a gas leak on the Germantown campus. A few minutes later, fire trucks approached campus and turned onto Observation Drive from Germantown Road.
The HT building was evacuated along with the other buildings on campus.
As of noon, the campus was still closed, but people may return to retrieve their cars. Slightly after 2:00, the college sent an MC Alert and updated the banner on the website saying the college would reopen for classes at 5:00 in the evening. People who want to collect belongings they left in buildings are instructed to go to the security office in room SA282.
Around 9:50, Professor Jeff Golden was walking away from campus with a few of his students from an animation class along Observation Drive. “A security guard just came in and told us to evacuate,” he said as he evacuated.
Due to the location of his classroom (closer to the PG building), he and his students left and walked north towards Germantown Road. All of the other people in the HT building evacuated and went south, towards Holy Cross Hospital, according to Golden.
A few minutes later, he and the students entered the Burger King across the street from Montgomery College to wait for additional information, as they wanted to get off campus and into another building. While waiting inside Burger King, Golden offered to buy the students orange juice, coffee or hash browns if they wanted any.
At 10:16, nearly half an hour after the evacuation began, Montgomery College released some information about the situation in an MC Alert. The message instructed people to evacuate for their safety and said the campus was closed until further notice.
Prior to that, Golden and the students did not know the reason for the evacuation or many details about the situation. Golden had not seen anything happening inside the HT building and no fire alarms had gone off. There had been an automated announcement, he said, but it was not a fire alarm.
The Germantown Pulse was the first source of information for the students waiting inside Burger King, tweeting that there had been a gas leak and MCFRS were at the scene just before 10:00. It took another 15 minutes for the college to officially release information via MC Alert after the initial Germantown Pulse tweet.
Around 10:20, another group of people was seen walking along Observation Drive away from campus, towards Germantown Road. According to the Germantown Pulse, the campus area had an odor of gas. Roads around campus had been closed, according to the MCFRS Public Information Officer on Twitter.
While waiting around at Burger King, Golden discussed animation and movies with one of his students to pass the time. Golden had left his car parked on campus, so he didn’t really have anywhere else to go.
By 11:00, local ABC affiliate station WJLA had a helicopter on scene to provide an aerial view of the situation. Most of the emergency vehicles were positioned behind the HT and BE buildings near the construction site.
Parking lots on campus had mostly cleared out by 11:15; there were police cars still positioned at the various street entrances to campus. By 11:45, the firefighters were climbing back into their trucks and preparing to leave.
By noon, the pipe had been capped and the gas leak had been stopped, said MCFRS spokesman Pete Piringer. It is now safe for people to retrieve their cars from campus, but the buildings remain closed. Since the gas was disconnected, they were without heat. He believes it is likely the ongoing construction on campus caused the gas leak — one of the machines may have hit the gas line while digging, breaking it.
Initially, they thought a 3-inch pipe had broken, but later realized it was a 4-inch high-pressure pipe. The gas company, Washington Gas, had to come and stop the leak, then restore gas supply to the six buildings that had lost it due to the leak.
Piringer estimated that 50 to 60 people with MCFRS were on scene and 800 to 1,000 people were evacuated, most as a precautionary measure. 20271 Goldenrod Lane (the PK building) was also evacuated. To evacuate the children in the Center for Early Education building, MCFRS provided an ambulance for them to shelter in, and parents were allowed to pick up their children from the campus.
Slightly after noon, Golden and one of his students had approached the Wegmans grocery store on Seneca Meadows Parkway. They had walked about a mile down Observation Drive from Burger King since they hadn’t received any additional information about the situation.
Montgomery College released a notice earlier in the morning about a power outage in the Humanities building on the Rockville campus, but it was not until nearly 30 minutes after the evacuation began that there was an official message from the college about the situation.
The campus remains closed until 5 p.m., according to an official alert received this afternoon from Montgomery College. Any classes taking place after that time will be held (unless professors decide otherwise), but administrative services will not resume today. The gas leak did not cause any injuries or fires.