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MCLA Towers Evacuated for Strong Odor; Students Taken to BMC

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
A hazmat team prepares to enter the MCLA towers on Saturday night after a strong smell forced the dormitory to be evacuated.

Updated at 9 p.m. on Sept. 21:  Tower B was reopened as of 6 p.m. on Monday night.

Tower A remains closed, although testing has not found any contaminant or source of the odor that caused the dormitory's evacuation on Saturday.

"On Sunday, September 20, Clean Harbors, an environmental contractor who specializes in emergency response air testing, was hired by the College to conduct a detailed evaluation of the building. Varieties of technology were used throughout the entire area of Berkshire Towers. These tests showed no traces of contaminants," according to a statement from the college.

Further testing was done on Monday with results expected by Tuesday. Representatives from North Adams Fire Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Indoor Air Quality Program, and MCLA Facilities Management Department also did a walk-through on Monday.

Updated, write-thru, new photos; 11:08 p.m.; latest update at 9:22 a.m., Sept. 20, includes possible cause of odor.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly 30 MCLA students were taken to the hospital on Saturday night after being exposed to an unknown substance that caused the evacuation of the Berkshire Towers dormitory.

According to a statement from Massachusetts College of LIberal Arts on Sunday morning, "indications of ammonia were found but no source was identified. The college has arranged for further air quality testing to ensure the safety of Berkshire Towers residents."

The Berkshire Towers will remain closed for the short term until then and students residing in the dorms will be offered alternative housing. Classes will resume Monday as scheduled.

The students who were taken to the hospital for evaluation have returned to campus.

James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said on Saturday night the the Regional Center for Poison Control had recommended taking the students to the hospital as a "hyper precaution."

"The students are being transported by MCLA vans with EMT folks," Stakenas said. "Again, it's a hyper precaution and the parents of these students are being contacted."

Students on the fifth floor of Tower A had complained of an unidentifiable smell and throat irritation at about 5:30. The Fire Department was called, which in turn contacted the Department of Fire Services Hazardous Materials Response for the tier 2 response.

"They are going to monitor and check for different types of chemicals," said Fire Chief Stephen Meranti. "There's not much for chemicals — there is no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no aerosol."

Meranti said the focus is on Tower A, the northern of the two high-rise dorms on Church Street.

"We don't have any reports of anything in Tower B," he said.

The chief said the evaluation is very labor intensive, with suited hazmat personnel rotating through the building.

"They're still metering, they're still monitoring, it's a methodical process. They have to go floor by floor to check the area," he said. "You can only be in there for a certain amount of time. They do what they can. they come out and they send another team .... it's a continual rotation.

"It's a long drawn-out process."

Two teams in two vehicles arrived at 8:25 and at 8:55 p.m., with the first team entering the building shortly before 9 p.m.

Meranti did not know what they were measuring for but anticipated they would be able to do an evaluation onsite with their specialized equipment.  

Twenty-seven students who were on or near the fifth floor, or who complained of similar symptoms, were taken to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and to its North Adams campus. They were required to shed their clothing and to be transported in Tyvek suits as part of the hospital's decontamination procedure. Meranti said that was "standard procedure."

Earlier in the evening, several students had said they were told to the gather in the towers' lobby, then left the building when the alarms went off.

"Students detected a smell at about 5:30 and notified the Fire Department," Stakenas said. "The students were evacuated to Venable Hall."

Both towers were expected to be closed for hours, if not the entire night. The city was providing its emergency shelter trailer and was able to help provide food and other comforts. Pizza from Pizza Works was also ordered for the displaced students stuck in Venable's gymnasium because the cafeteria had closed.

Stakenas estimated about 80 students had been evacuated; the towers hold about 250 but many may have left for the weekend or were elsewhere.

North Adams Ambulance Service stationed an ambulance near the gym. Also on scene is the mobile incident command vehicle, North Adams firefighters and police, campus police, and the North Adams Ambulance rehab trailer.

Church Street was closed between Blackinton Street and Hoosac Hall.

There were a few students frustrated with the inability to reach their dorms. "I just want to get some pants," said one girl. Another was annoyed that she was unable to find out when they would be able to get back in or where they would be sleeping.

Stakenas said students should be checking their phones for updates through the college's alert system.

Two students said they were unable to get prescription medicine that was in their dorm rooms. Catherine Holbrook, vice president of student services, said students in those cases should contact college staff to assess how critical the need is; North Adams Ambulance General Manager John Meaney Jr. noted that in an emergency, they can call 911.

Holbrook also encouraged students to contact their parents as soon as possible.  

"Students should be talking to their parents and letting them know they're OK," she said. "There are a lot of worried parents contacting our police and the town, it's tying up the emergency numbers."

 

Strong odor forces the evacuation of MCLA Berkshire towers dormitory on Saturday night. The hazmat team was on the scene along with local fire and police. Some 30 students were affected.

Posted by iBerkshires.com on Saturday, September 19, 2015

 

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Superior Court Briefs: Sept. 14 - Sept. 17

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, Sept. 14.
 
Guillermo Sanchez, 41, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to four counts of distribution of cocaine and a single count of conspiracy to violate drug laws to wit: distribution of cocaine.
 
He was ordered to serve concurrent two and a half years at the Berkshire County House of Correction.
 
The charges stem from the sale of cocaine in Pittsfield between September 17, 2013 and October 7, 2014.
 
Charles Daniels Sr., 31, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to single counts of possession of a firearm, illegal possession of a loaded firearm, possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, armed career felon, resisting arrest, possession of heroin, operating a motor vehicle with a suspended licenses, disorderly conduct, and failing to stop for a police officer.
 
The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on January 1, 2015. He was ordered to serve six to eight years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on the armed career felon charge. He was given concurrent time on the other charges except failing to stop for a police officer, in which he was ordered to pay a $100 fine. The judge remitted the fine.
 
Lemarr Talley, 32, of Springfield pleaded guilty to single counts of trafficking in cocaine and possession of heroin with intent to distribute in connection with the execution of a search warrant in Pittsfield on July 29, 2014.
 
He was ordered to serve concurrent two and a half to three years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction. He will begin serving the sentence on January 4, 2016.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
 
Nakiba Browne was sentenced to concurrent five to eight years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on single counts of manufacturing cocaine and manufacturing heroin.
 
The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at his Linden Street home on September 19, 2014. He was found guilty to the charges on September 10, 2015.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, Sept. 17.
 
Paul Dugal Jr., 53, of North Adams pleaded guilty to single counts of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol - his third offense - and operating to endanger. 
 
The charges are in connection with a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on August 5, 2014. He was ordered to serve 18 months at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the operating under the influence charge and placed on one-year probation on the other.
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Utility Pole Caught Fire, Cut Power To Mall

Staff Reports
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A utility pole caught fire Thursday and cut power to the Berkshire Mall.
 
Fire Chief Charlie Durfee said at about 4:30 on Thursday firefighters were called to the Berkshire Mall and found two phases of  the three-phase power system  had popped on the pole. Firefighters extinguished the fire and Eversource was called. 
 
The fire left most of the mall without power forcing the stores to close.
 
"The mall manager was calling the home office to close the mall due to no power," Durfee wrote in an email Thursday evening. "Eversource wasn't sure what happened or how long it would take to fix."
 
The anchor stores were able to open sometime later but the rest of the mall was closed for the evening.
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Hazmat Team Finds No Threat In Package Delivered To Pittsfield Police

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
The hazmat team found no dangerous materials in the package.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A hazardous materials team found no threat in a suspicious package sent to the police station.
 
The District 5 Hazmat Team responded to headquarters Wednesday morning shortly before 11 to investigate a FedEx-delivered package that contained a medical journal hinting of virus dissemination.
 
By noon, the team found the package was not a danger.
 
"Monday afternoon a package was delivered to the Pittsfield Police Department headquarters. It didn't cause any undue alarm but once the package had been opened, the staff realized there was some inconsistencies with the addresses — both the delivery address and the alleged address of the sender," Police Chief Michael Wynn said.
 
The package originated from what appears to be a fake address out of Colorado, according to police, and was addressed to a nonexistent receptionist with the Pittsfield Police Department.
 
The address for the Police Department was also wrong. Inside, responders found newspapers, periodicals and the medical journal. The concern was that it may contain a powered substance or virus, the chief said.
 
"Shoved in the bottom of the box was an excerpt from a medical journal on virus dissemination and transmission and given the climate and culture we are working in, we thought it merited the extra precaution," Wynn said.
 
The package sat in a vacant office in the station for two days before being examined. Wynn said because of that, the station was not evacuated. 
 
"They found nothing so we never suspended operations," Wynn said.
 
The Fire Department hosts the hazmat team, which is staffed by firefighters from both North Adams and Pittsfield. The Pittsfield Fire Department also sent an engine company to the scene. 
 
"The team is originally designed for hazmat response and, through the years, our role has evolved into handling these bio, nuclear and chemical possibilities," Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said. "The team is well versed in these kinds of operations."
 
The team quickly examined the package on scene and found no reason for alarm. The team has a dedicated vehicle with a number of assets to investigate such a situation. The response was a Tier 1, which means limited resources were used for the examination.
 
"They were confident that nothing was in the package," Czerwinski said. 
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Superior Court Briefs: Sept. 9 - Sept. 10

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
 
Lavar Burney, 35, of Pittsfield had a not guilty plea entered on his behalf on a single count of distribution of heroin. 
 
He was released on $1,00 bail. The charge stems from a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on July 3, 2015.
 
Ronald Palazoo, 76, of Sandisfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on three counts of rape of a child with force, three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14, and intimidation of a witness.
 
He was released on $10,000 cash or $100,000 surety. Palazoo is accused of sexually assaulting a boy, now aged 5, in Sandisfield on September 3, 2012 and July 11, 2015.
 
Brooklynne Schneider, 21, of Stephentown, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to violate drug laws, to wit: distribution of heroin.
 
She was ordered to be held at the Hampden County House of Correction-Chicopee Woman's Facility on $10,000 bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on July 23, 2015.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, Sept. 10.
 
Jarritt White, 34, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, conspiracy to violate drug laws to wit: possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, illegal ownership of a firearm, rifle, or shotgun, possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, and improper storage of a firearm, rifle or shotgun.
 
He was released on personal recognizance. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at 715 West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield on July 3, 2015.
 
Vincent Stracuzzi, 44, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, conspiracy to violate drug laws to wit: possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine.
 
He was released on $1,000 bail. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant on his home on July 3, 2015.
 
Nakiba Browne, 31, of Pittsfield was found guilty of manufacturing cocaine - his second offense - and manufacturing heroin - his second offense.
 
He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction pending sentencing on Sept. 15. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at his Linden Street home on September 19, 2014.
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