By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsAugust 29, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker leadership assured the community that the child development center is safe and revealed the cause behind several recent precautionary evacuations of the facility during a town hall Aug. 22 at the Spiritual Life Center.
Just over 20 community members showed up to the town hall to learn that the culprit behind the gas smells that prompted the evacuations is the building's gas system external purge design which, under the right weather and wind conditions, can cause a gas smell within the facility, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, garrison commander.
"I can fully attest to the safety and security of the CDC building," the colonel said. "The precautionary evacuations have been just that -- precautionary. The CDC does not have a gas leak problem -- it has a blow-off issue that poses no threat to the safety of the children or staff at the facility."
After the first evacuation, the Fort Rucker directorates of Public Works and Public Safety, and also Southeast Gas, the contractor that provides natural gas to the post, conducted numerous inspections of the facility and deemed it safe, although Southeast Gas did repair two pin-sized leaks in the kitchen area, Gardner said.
"We went through the CDC, we increased the volume and frequency of inspections, and we went through all of the lines -- the building is safe," the colonel said. "What we have with the blow-off valve is that a small amount of detectable fumes, or odors, keeps getting sucked into the HVAC intake. Depending on atmospheric conditions or weather, it forces it down and it can become more detectable at times -- it's very inconsistent."
To head off further precautionary evacuations for the same reason, DPW extended the system's vent pipe so it purges the gas further from the building entrance and the outside air intake to alleviate the problem, according to Bill Wells, Fort Rucker DPW representative at the town hall.
Even though the cause of the gas smells has been identified, the colonel said there is a plan in place to increase the safety of the facility and improve communications with patrons.
"We're going to err on the side of caution with any potential or suspected exhaust or leak issues -- we're not going to direct employees to act any differently," he said. "We'll be testing a new email and text alert system to parents, looking into adding natural gas detectors to the facility to work alongside the fire and carbon monoxide detectors we already have in place, and Southeast Gas will conduct a pressure test on the exterior service lines to the CDC.
"There's a lot of attention on this building right now and people should expect that to continue," Gardner added. "So, don't be alarmed if you drop off your child and see someone with a clipboard conducting an inspection. Also, some of these inspections might be going on after hours -- it's easier to get in there when there are no employees or children in there."
Overall, Gardner said he wanted people to leave the town hall confident that Fort Rucker leadership is committed to fixing problems.
"If there is a legitimate health and safety issue in any of our facilities, just know that we will shut it down and fix it," he said, citing recent examples such as the rat problem in the post exchange and a colony of bats moving into the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center that resulted in both facilities being closed until the issues were dealt with.
"You can ask us very specific questions, and we'll let you know what the issue is and what we're going to do to fix it," he said, adding that the Interactive Customer Evaluation system off of the Fort Rucker website was a good way to communicate with leadership. "We're empathetic, we're listening. I'm on Facebook because I'm interested in what goes on at Fort Rucker, and not just because I'm the garrison commander, but because I also live here -- I'm also a resident."