School evacuation an ‘over-reaction’

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City orders to evacuate schools in Oslo on Thursday were unnecessary and an “over-reaction” to concerns that fire extinguishers might explode on contact. Importers of the extinguishers said they’d never suggested there was any imminent danger.

City education officials,  however, didn’t want to take any chances. They ordered all junior high- and high schools to close, while elementary school children were evacuated to school yards to wait for their parents to pick them up.

Officials in other cities around Norway, like Kristiansand and Ålesund, reacted differently and kept schools open while collecting the allegedly faulty fire extinguishers. A production error in their vents was the cause of the concern.

“In the worst case, the vent can pop off the extinguisher under high pressure, and possibly fly off and hit someone,” Frank Willy Ottesen, product chief at import firm GBPM Nordic, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). But he said the producer in Germany had merely recommended swapping the extinguishers during an annual control. “We have not understood there’s any acute need to remove the extinguishers immediately,” Ottesen told NRK.

He said his company was informed of the problem with 2-kilo- and 5-kilo-CO2 extinguishers last summer. Around 94,000 of them were sold in Europe, 8,360 in Norway. He claims there was no danger of explosion.

Lars Eliassen, managing director of another firm importing potentially faulty extinguishers, also said the evacuation was unnecessary. “We did not consider the situation acute,” Eliassen told NRK. “The evacuation wasn’t necessary, it was an over-reaction.”

Rigmor Hansen of the city agency in charge of schools in Oslo, Undervisningsbygg, said they were first made aware of the problem on Wednesday. She wouldn’t say why it took so long to get word of the problem that was reported in August.

She said she and her colleagues simply “took the situation very seriously. The safety of the students has been the most important.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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