Munger Mountain Elementary School evacuation

Munger Mountain Elementary School students are led away from their school Feb. 13 after a possible gas leak.

Around 10:20 Thursday morning, a strange smell was detected around one of the classrooms at Munger Mountain Elementary School. A couple of students felt ill.

Not knowing what the smell was or whether it was related to the students not feeling well, administrators and teachers decided to pull the fire alarm, alerting first responders and shutting down some school operating systems.

That set off a morning of adventure in which Munger Mountain students and teachers evacuated while Jackson Hole Fire/EMS and Lower Valley Energy personnel investigated the source of the odor.

“With that kind of report, with the kids having symptoms synonymous with carbon monoxide, it was a good decision on the school’s part,” Jackson/Teton County Fire Marshal Kathy Clay said.

Students were given time to put on their “big five” — warm coats, snow pants, hats, mittens and boots — before they evacuated, district Information Coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. They spent time hanging out with their teachers and classmates while eight buses traveled to the school, located about 10 miles south of town.

When the buses were called for, district officials didn’t know how long the evacuation might be, so they planned to keep the students on the buses for a while and then move them to other elementary schools to finish the day, if needed.

As they loaded the students onto the buses, Fire/EMS and Lower Valley Energy investigated.

First, they turned off the gas to the school, hoping to eliminate that as a possibility. Using gas detectors they combed the school, taking readings and finding nothing.

With gas ruled out, Clay said, the school’s facility crew had a hunch that a motor in the heating system may have seized and burned up a belt, causing the smell. But when staff turned on the heaters again, nothing seemed to be amiss.

To allow students and teachers to reenter the school building, responders left some systems off for the day.

The district facilities department and Lower Valley Energy staff tested those systems after classes let out Thursday afternoon. They couldn’t find anything wrong, and carbon monoxide tests came back negative.

Clay said Lower Valley would return to the school Friday to test for carbon monoxide again.

Though the students’ morning was disrupted, they were able to reenter the school around 12:15 p.m., following the two hours of intrigue.

From a first responder’s perspective, Clay said, the ease with which students were evacuated and an ending that included no damage or injuries made it a surprisingly pleasant call-out.

“It was a great,” she said. “It was one of those events that ends so well that you’re happy to be a part of.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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