|Volume XXIX Issue 8||October 9, 2003|
Electrical problem forces evacuation
Steve Earley - News Editor
Staley residence hall was evacuated early last Thursday morning after a faulty socket caused several appliances to overheat and emit smoke.
Responding to a 12:07 a.m. 911 call, firefighters arrived at the scene at 12:11 a.m., just as campus police began evacuating the 35-year-old residence hall’s 200 students.
Megan Bonstein, Staley third floor resident advisor, said symptoms of what turned out to be a loose wire started Wednesday afternoon when her roommate’s hairdryer suddenly cut out. "I didn’t think anything of it," Bonstein said.
But at 11:45 that evening, Bonstein and her hallmates started noticing more severe problems. "I was in my suitemate’s room and all of a sudden, smoke started coming out of her desk lamp," she said. "It looked like it was coming right out of the light bulb."
Residents also reported smoke coming from a computer and sparks coming from a television set, Bonstein said.
Using thermal imaging, firefighters identified a third-floor wall socket as the source of the problems. Utilities manager Paul Holt said the faulty socket caused a common wire – which provides power to three rooms – to come loose, in turn applying more than the normal 120 volts to connected appliances.
Holt explained that most appliances have heat fuses which shutoff a device before temperatures reach dangerous levels – but not before causing a little bit of smoke and a pungent electrical smell.
Although there was no fire and the fire alarm did not sound, the smell of smoke and sight of students evacuating the building was enough to alarm some residents. "A couple of people were really scared,” Bonstein said. “They were like, ‘Is Staley going to burn down?’”
Going in, Campus Safety and Police was also preparing for the worst. “When we first got the call we didn’t know how serious the situation was,” said Chuck Gantos, director of Campus Safety and Police. As stipulated in the school’s disaster plan, university officials began organizing accommodations for the evacuated residents in Jordan Gym.
Since the problem was determined to be isolated, students were allowed to re-enter the dormitory at 12:25 a.m. However, smoke was still present in some of the rooms.
“We didn’t know if it was
safe for them to go to sleep,” Bonstein said. As a precaution, power was
shutoff to the affected rooms. The university’s electrician repaired the
socket and restored power Thursday morning.
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