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Four teens fall faint at Pemberton Secondary

‘Unrelated’ incidents occur during all-candidates meeting

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Two students suddenly fainted, while two others became ill during an all-candidates meeting at Pemberton Secondary School Friday.

The school was eventually evacuated and firefighters called in to check for carbon monoxide and other airborne contaminants, but no substances were found.

“Our guys didn’t find anything so it wasn’t related to any gas or anything of that nature,” said Richard Doucet, acting fire chief for the Pemberton Fire District.

Authorities say the fainting incidents were unrelated.

The first incident occurred at around 2:30 p.m. as Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl was addressing a crowd of approximately 50 students, teachers and members of the public as part of the riding’s first federal candidates meeting in the school’s atrium.

A loud thud was heard at the back of the room during Strahl’s speech. The audience turned to see a male student rising from the floor with blood trickling from his forehead. Strahl stopped speaking and the entire audience then looked to see what happened.

Strahl then attempted to draw people’s attention away from the student, saying, “Okay, folks, I think they’re looking after him now.” Moderator and social studies teacher Jason Gadd told him to keep going. The room’s doors were soon opened to the outside to air the place out.

“Let’s look this way,” Strahl told the audience. “It’s bad when I have to ask you to look at a politician, but here you go, let’s let him recover there.”

Then as soon as the MP finished speaking, a female student sitting in the second row fell to the ground in the middle aisle.

She did not hit her head like the previous student and opened her eyes just as a school official came to assist her while she was on the ground. NDP candidate Helen Kormendy, who has First Aid training, also came to her assistance.

Gadd then took the stage and tried to make light of the situation by telling an anecdote about former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. Canada’s first PM once threw up during a campaign speech as an opponent spoke.

Macdonald later said, “I get sick… not because of drink (but because) I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

Scattered laughs filled the atrium after Gadd related the anecdote. Strahl could be seen jokingly adjusting his collar.

The all-candidates meeting finished at about 3 p.m. At that time an announcement went over the school’s public address system and asked everyone to evacuate the building immediately. It was the end of the school day and students filed out of the building very quickly.

Outside the school, two fire engines had arrived from the Pemberton Fire District, along with at least one RCMP cruiser. Firemen later entered the building through the front entrance wearing gas masks as approximately 10 people remained by the entrance.

Pemberton Secondary Principal Nolan Cox later issued a statement on the school’s website saying that four students had fallen faint between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the commons area. He also said that the fire department, RCMP and district personnel were called to investigate whether the sicknesses were caused by an airborne contaminant.

Concerns about poisonous gases were shot down at approximately 5:15 p.m., when the fire department and district personnel determined the school was safe and that there were no air quality concerns.

Speaking to Pique in an interview, Cox said medical personnel have told the school that each of the students were victims of “unrelated incidences” and that no one found evidence of an airborne substance.

“The medical personnel have said that they were unrelated incidences,” he said. “We had confirmation that… there was no airborne contaminants that were responsible.”

Cox said district personnel went into the school and did system checks to see if air-handling units were functioning properly. Everything checked out, according to the principal.

“This is the first time something like this has happened,” he said.

Doucet said firefighters checked for numerous contaminants in the school but didn’t find any substances in the air. Those contaminants include carbon monoxide and any other substances that could be depleting oxygen.

“I think the two people right off the bat, some people faint when they see blood, so you get a little bit of a chain reaction there,” Doucet said.

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