FCT Stinky Cheese Man

Fleetwood Community Theatre will present “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Willow Creek Elementary on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. From left: Ava Okuley, Fleetwood; Emily Jones, Blandon; Ian Miller, Blandon; and SaraAnn Harbonic, Blandon.

Fleetwood Police evacuated Fleetwood Area Middle School during a Fleetwood Community Theatre rehearsal Thursday night, Feb. 7. FCT cast members became ill and were sent to the hospital.

Fleetwood Police reported that while the community theater group was practicing for an upcoming play in the middle school auditorium, several people became ill. The school was evacuated and the fire department conducted air quality checks. Cast members, who were conscious and alert, were transported by ambulance to area hospitals for evaluations.

In a release to media, Fleetwood Community Theatre reported that during the dress rehearsal for “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” rehearsal was quickly shut down around 7:45 p.m. when several of the student actors became ill. Complaints of dizziness and headaches started and then three students lost consciousness. Medical professionals on site, who are members of FCT, attended to the students and called 9-1-1.

Fleetwood Police were the first on scene and assisted in evacuating the building with the help of custodial staff working that night, FCT reported.

According to FCT, two students, Zoe Bean and Paige Rothermel, were taken out by EMS. Able to walk out of the building on their own, Janine Melendez, Peyton Polanco, Jackie Stuber and Ryan Stuber were checked on site by first responders and then transported to hospitals. A seventh student, Emily Jones, who had been the first to show symptoms, had left the school prior to the 9-1-1 call but was taken to the hospital by her parents. The other 15 students, who are part of the cast and crew, declined medical assistance claiming they had no symptoms.

FCT reported that two adults, Melissa Kopicz and Adina Melendez, were also transported to the hospital.

“These ladies, along with the other FCT adults at the scene, tended to the students until EMS arrived and took over,” reported FCT. “No one directly involved in the incident complained of any unusual odor in the building. All conditions and situations had been identical the previous three evenings of rehearsals, until the dizziness and headaches started.”

“It is believed that the illness resulted from carbon monoxide exposure, but neither the fire department nor Berks County Department of Emergency Services found any traces of carbon monoxide,” reported Fleetwood Area School District Superintendent Greg Miller in a letter to parents. “We do have confirmation that the test results from the hospital show some level of carbon monoxide exposure for most of the people treated there. As a precautionary measure, we closed the middle school to conduct additional testing and an investigation concerning the matter.”

Feb. 8, an outside air quality contractor was at the middle school to continue the investigation.

“After hours of testing, they did not find any cause for the illness, or any unsafe gas levels, including but not limited to carbon monoxide. One concern that has been identified is the possibility that the stage lights could have been a contributing factor to the illness. Therefore, the overhead stage lights will not be used until our lighting contractor can certify that they are safe and working properly,” reported Miller.

Additionally, the school district installed carbon monoxide detectors in the auditorium, stage, and back stage areas to help monitor and ensure the safety of students, staff, and community.

“While the building has been cleared for use, we will be keeping it closed throughout the evening Feb. 8 to continue to monitor the situation.”

The district reopened the building for events on Saturday, Feb. 9, including a regular school day on Monday, Feb. 11.

Miller offered a special thank you from Fleetwood Area School District to the Fleetwood community first responders “who acted quickly and efficiently to handle all health concerns and support the students and community members during this emergency situation. As always, our main concern is for the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff, and community.”

The FCT performances of “The Stinky Cheese Man” scheduled for Feb. 8 and 9 were postponed to accommodate additional testing and give the cast and crew time to rest and recover from their scare, reported FCT.

The shows have been rescheduled to be held Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Willow Creek Elementary. To purchase tickets call 484-793-0918 between Feb. 12 and Feb. 15. Tickets purchased at the door will be general admission seating. Show runs about 1 hour 15 minutes and includes a 15 minute intermission. Those who had tickets for the original dates need to call the FCT Box Office at 484-793-0918 by Feb. 12 at noon to exchange their tickets.

“Fleetwood Community Theatre would like to thank Officer Button of the Fleetwood Police Department, the crews of the Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Company and Walnuttown Volunteer Fire Company, as well as the ambulance companies from Fleetwood, Oley, Northern Berks and Topton for taking such good care of our members. Your patience and compassion did not go unappreciated. Anyone of the first responders from these companies who attends a performance will get discounted tickets with proper ID,” said FCT in their release.

For more information on FCT, visit fleetwoodcommunitytheatre.com or like on Facebook.


Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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