You could certainly imagine how disconcerting it would be to see a large plume of black smoke rising above your head and originating from a building on a school’s campus. This was a reality for one district recently.
It appears that there was a malfunction with the burner, which caused a problem with the firing of the boiler. By the time the problem was known, the smoke was billowing from the building, where the boiler was located. Fortunately, school was not yet in session for the day, so no one was injured, and the smoke did not enter the main buildings.
According to the reports, the school relies on two different types of fuel. When the temperatures drop far enough, the system will draw from the heating oil, as opposed to natural gas. Unfortunately, there was an incomplete combustion. The issue might have been prevented with better preventative maintenance.
Large systems, like those to heat and cool schools, hospitals, and large businesses are generally more complicated than residential systems, and therefore must be checked and maintained on a very regular basis. All of the mechanical systems or MEPs (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) used to provide heat, cooling, hot water, and electricity require constant maintenance, and some sort of automated control to make them work properly.
Preventive maintenance like checking temperatures across heat exchangers, pumps, and fans can be accomplished with simple instruments like the OptrisLasersight infrared thermometer. This simple handheld device can help the facilities technician diagnose and maintain terminal heating equipment, along with main mechanical systems.
However, in the case of the smoking boiler, the inspections should have gone a bit further. It would have been a good practice to have the system switched over to heating oil every couple of weeks, during off hours, to ensure that the switch could be made effectively and safely. Doing so during off-hours means that an issues or problems that arise can be dealt with, without affecting students, faculty and staff.