False alarm clears Burk Hall
November 27, 2007 3:52 PM
As Burk Hall was evacuated Tuesday afternoon and again Wednesday morning in response to reports of smoke and heat in the basement and in a computer lab, students struggled to exit through a handicapped door that has been jammed for some time, according to Alicia Jalipa, administrative analyst in SF State’s College of Education.
“It’s really not been working well and this morning when we evacuated the fifth floor and basement, the door did not open again,” Jalipa said. “The police have been reporting it to work control, and President Corrigan is aware of what’s happening in Burk Hall.”
The San Francisco Fire Department received the call at 3 p.m. Tuesday when the building was evacuated. A burning smell was noticeable Wednesday morning to the point that the fifth floor offices decided to evacuate as a precaution and warn those in the basement to follow suit out of the building.
“It smelled like an old heater and felt really warm, so I grabbed my book and I ran,” said Lizzy Lear, 19-year-old student assistant and communications major. “The associate dean didn’t even realize there was a fire, he was sitting in his office holding a meeting.”
Students remained outside for 25 minutes, and then were allowed back in as building engineers arrived.
Plant Operations found that the cause of both alarms was a fan belt that had been burning on a fan on which they were performing regular maintenance by stopping and starting the belts.
But as students were trying to exit through the emergency handicapped access doors and emergency responders were attempting to get in, the broken doors barred their way. Jalipa said that the left door never opens and is reported by the office almost every day.
President Corrigan had Charles Meyer, director of facilities for SF State, sent to tour the building’s electrical and mechanical rooms to explore the smell.
Meyer noted that the emergency doors were not hooked to the handicapped button latch that automatically opens them, but that one could push the doors open manually this morning as he walked the floors of the building, from the roof to the basement, checking the elevator room and exhaust pumps.
David Walter, the lead electrician for SF State, determined that the alarm originated from a pull station on the first floor, not a smoke detector.
“All of the exhaust fans seem to be working, but different things can go wrong, such as electrical smells—but usually they are pretty distinctive,” Meyer said.
Wednesday’s evacuation caused disruption, and while some classes were cancelled as the fire department explored the heat and smoke, others classes continued.
Campus Orientation Director Karen Kingsbury held her counseling class on the lawn outside Burk Hall. “We’re having a test on Thursday, got to keep going,” she said.
“There is heat in some of the walls, a truly tremendous amount, we know its located in the second floor in the computer lab and basement—but we don’t know where the fire is,” Jacob E. Perea, dean of education, said before the fire department determined the cause of the alarm.
Dean Perea was sitting in his office Tuesday afternoon meeting with a student in the College of Education’s fifth floor administrative offices when his eyes started to water and he thought it smelled of burnt coffee. His executive assistant, Patricia Joost, began to bang on the door, saying that it really was a fire.
“The smell started coming through the vents again, so we called the police and the Dean and the policeman found it was strongest in the south stairwell,” Joost said of Wednesday’s evacuation. “So we called the building engineers.”
[X]press staff contributed to this article.
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