FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – Feb. 11, 2010 - Just days after surviving the worst school disaster in American history, 10-year-old Carolyn Jones stood before the Texas Legislature and pleaded for safer schools.
The Legislature promptly passed bills requiring a strong odor to be added to natural gas, which is invisible and essentially odorless. Other states crafted similar laws in an effort to avoid a repeat of the March 18, 1937 gas explosion that obliterated the New London, Texas Junior-Senior High School. The historic disaster killed more than 300 people, most of them school children, and injured hundreds of other students.
Nearly 73 years later, Carolyn Jones Frei is still calling for safer schools and pushing for the nation to recognize March 18 annually as a date to put sharper focus on school safety issues.
“I think it is a great idea if you can get some support,” she says. “With the passing of the survivors (of the New London school explosion), something needs to be done” to carry on efforts to make Americans broadly aware of the tragic explosion, its causes and consequences.
On Saturday (Feb. 13) Frei will discuss this issue and her memories of the disaster during a radio interview with David M. Brown, co-author of Gone at 3:17, a book-in-progress about the New London school explosion. They will be guests of talk show host Rob Pratte from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. (EST), during the live talk show on KDKA (AM 1020) Radio in Pittsburgh. KDKA is a 50,000-watt station heard across Pennsylvania and surrounding states through its traditional signal and around the globe through Internet streaming connections at www.kdkaradio.com. On the right side of the home page click on the “Listen Live” icon.
“Carolyn’s story in a nutshell captures the essence of many of the accounts of those who lived through the New London explosion,” Brown said. “Her sister and an uncle whom she was very close to died in the blast. She and other survivors, and their families, had to draw on all the strength and resources they could muster to piece their lives back together and move on. Each survivor I've interviewed has a remarkable story to tell."
Her story also has a unique dimension, because she was the precocious child chosen by her classmates and teachers to be a voice that lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere would hear with clarity and compassion, Brown said. “Carolyn is credited with giving momentum to laws everywhere that require a foul-smelling additive in natural gas to make leaks more detectable.”
Even so, gas is no less deadly than ever when it is not safely contained, as evidenced by the natural gas explosion Sunday in Middletown, Connecticut that killed five people.
Frei has been inspired by the work of Ellie Goldberg, a child safety and healthy schools advocate who created “Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion Project.” The project shares the story of the tragedy and helps break the silence about conditions in today’s schools, Goldberg said.
“There are many schools where explosives and other hazardous materials in labs, closets and storerooms are routinely ignored,” Goldberg said. “My goal is to make March 18 an annual national observance dedicated to bringing 'safety' from the margins to the core of school curriculum and community culture.
Every year, on the anniversary of March 18, Goldberg's project honors a Healthy Schools Hero who “demonstrates extraordinary responsibility and inspirational leadership for safety in schools."
“The 1937 explosion is an important case study and cautionary tale,” Goldberg said. “It needs to be part of our national legacy because the same type of false economies and safety shortcuts that led to the 1937 tragedy are still common in too many schools today.”
Brown, a veteran journalist and former long-time staff writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is at work on a book titled Gone at 3:17 -- The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History. Michael Wereschagin, a reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who has covered several contemporary disasters, has teamed with Brown to write the first definite account of the New London school explosion. They plan for the nonfiction book to be released shortly before the 75th anniversary of the disaster: March 18, 2012. Brown began research for the book about 20 years ago at a time he lived in East Texas and interviewed scores of survivors, rescue workers, emergency medical responders and others with first-hand accounts of the New London explosion.
For more information about Gone at 3:17, go to www.schooldisaster.com
Frei is a retired language arts teacher with bachelor’s and masters degrees from the University of Idaho. In her spare time she writes prose and poetry, reads a lot, and volunteers in various literary and social justice causes. She lives with her husband in Lewiston, Idaho, and has three adult children – a lawyer, a doctor, an academic – nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
She was trapped in a basement-level classroom when the New London school exploded, but managed to escape without serious injuries.
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