Laboratory fires don’t often get much attention outside of the university, but they can have a devastating impact when they go wrong. Two fires, one at the University of Maryland College Park and the other at SUNY in Canton, New York, had dramatically different outcomes.
University of Maryland Laboratory Fire
The fire in Maryland was in a high-tech research laboratory that housed a number of highly toxic gases and chemicals. Fortunately, this lab had an automatic fire sprinkler system that controlled the fire.
We had a fire on January 26, I believe, in the ceiling of our lab here at the University of Maryland, and it was inside of our clean room. Now we’re not exactly sure what started the fire. Fortunately, no one was injured in the actual fire. Two students were in the lab and they called 911 and got the firemen here as soon as possible so the damage was really mitigated by the quick response of the fire department and the quick discharge of the sprinkler system. If the sprinkler system had not gone off the damage may have been much more severe and the fire could have spread and either destroyed the lab or the entire building. So we are actually very, very luck that it was somewhat contained and the damage was minimal.
Now if the fire had been much worst and our tool had actually burned down and some of the steel had melted, then the chemicals would have been released into the environment and this could have been incredibly dangerous and our lab is adjacent to three other labs and are still in full working order and there was no damage there, so business can continue as usual in these other labs.
Fire first started in a fan in the ceiling up here in the filtration system in our room and the fan caught on fire and the air filter up here caught on fire which lit the whole ceiling panel on fire. Now that discharged the sprinkler, one sprinkler right here and one is over there. These are the only two sprinklers in the buidling that went off, above this ALT system and another ALT system that was right underneath this fire we’ve removed from the lab.
So the haz mat team came in and tested the water and everything that was in the lab and we were allowed back in the lab about three hours after the fire was declared safe. So we got to come in and start cleaning up right away three hours after the fire happened which we think helped us save quite a bit of equipment and our electronics and what we had in the lab.
SUNY Canton Laboratory Fire
A fire broke out in a chemistry laboratory at SUNY Canton. This lab did not have an automatic fire sprinkler system and the damage was extensive. But that’s not the end of the story. Because of environmental impact caused by the toxic byproducts of the fire the campus was shut down for an entire week and all of the students were sent home while the damage could be assessed and cleaned up.
The volunteer fire department had to have fire fighters on campus for the entire week. Because of the possibility of contamination, fire trucks, breathing equipment and turnout gear was bagged, quarantined and cleaned, a major impact on fire department operations. This fire in an unsprinklered chemistry lab had a significant impact on the mission continuity of the school and the community.