Be safe, Virginia Chemistry Accident – lit students on fire

Don’t Let this happen at your school. Implement a Science Safety Risk Management Process.
Due to a Virginia chemistry accident, a senior at a Virginia high school said she’s ‘traumatized’ after the botched chemistry demonstration set multiple students and her teacher on fire. Bethanne Piland, 19, attended her second-period chemistry class at Dinwiddie High School Wednesday when her teacher conducted an experiment that went horribly wrong as students in the first and second rows were in flames within seconds.

‘My friends were burning, and I was burning,’ Piland said. ‘I froze and I was just afraid. I’m still replaying it in my head.

‘I couldn’t see their faces, they were faced down on the ground. I was thinking oh, are they dead? Are they going to be okay?’ Piland told WTVR.

William Massello, the science teacher experimenting using methanol, had attempted to make a water bottle with a flame fly across the room. When the trick failed, Masello added more gas to the bottle which ignited the explosion. Immediately, Massello went to help the students on fire while another student rushed to pull the fire alarm, according to Piland.

‘I was frozen in space and when I looked down that is when I noticed the fire on my pants,’ Piland said. ‘I was the only one in there when the teacher put the fire out.’ Piland said the two boys right beside her were two of the three students sent to the hospital. She wasn’t injured in the incident.  ‘His hair was crispy,’ she said as she recalled what one of them looked like. ‘His skin was peeling and his lip was busted.’

Different rumors on how the explosion occurred are being spread by students that weren’t present in the chemistry classroom, but Piland is determined to share the truth.

‘The teacher didn’t do anything wrong,’ Piland told ‘It’s not his fault.’ Piland also debunked claims that an altercation in the classroom led to the explosion after chemicals were spilled over. ‘People need to know what happened,’ she said. Medical professionals arrived at the scene and treated three students that suffered burn injuries with one needing to be airlifted to the hospital, according to the County of Dinwiddie Fire Department. Massello was also sent to the hospital and another student was later treated for a minor burn. After witnessing her friends on fire, Piland is traumatized and afraid to go back into the chemistry room.

‘It’s not going to get out of my head,’ Piland said. ‘It’s not going to be the same.’ The school has arranged for students in Massello’s chemistry class to learn in a different classroom when they return in person on Friday. Piland fears she will never recover from the horrid images from Wednesday but is insistent she heads back to school for the remainder of her senior year.

The horrific explosion occurred on the second floor of the science building with students in surrounding classrooms immediately evacuating. 

One eyewitness said that one student’s hair caught on hair. Meanwhile, other students said they smelled ‘burning’ and ‘chemical fumes’ after the blast. The explosion came as a shock to many as the 18-year high school teacher had performed the same experiment for years. 

A past video from 2017 showed a student holding onto a water bottle with gas as it flung across the classroom as the flame ignited.

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