Professor got firsthand look at electrical fire

Prof. Kimberly Cote sits in the sleep lab amidst by towels and blankets that were laundered after a recent electrical fire.It’s not a day that Kimberly Cote is likely to forget any time soon – the day she was working in her sleep lab and an electrical fire erupted outside.Cote, an associate professor of Psychology, was working in the sleep research laboratory on the fourth floor of Mackenzie Chown B block on Jan. 31. It was early afternoon when she and the five students in the lab with her felt the ground shake and watched the lights flicker.In that moment, Cote’s couldn’t have known the reality – that a fire had started in a nearby electrical room, a fire that would close some fourth-floor portions of Mackenzie Chown B and C block for the next week. At first, she thought something had fallen on the roof.She opened the door and headed for a fellow faculty member’s office so they could both take a look around. On the way, she felt what seemed like a second explosion. Smoke and flames seemed to billow from the elevator area.Heading back through thick smoke, Cote yelled to the students in the lab to evacuate and led them down the stairs to safety.“I must have shouted in a convincing way because the students shot out of the lab without their coats or their cell phones,” she recalled.Under the blare of the fire alarm, Cote passed the Psychology department on the third level, threw open the door and yelled, “This is a real fire. Get out.” Once outside, she borrowed someone’s cell phone to call Campus Security and described exactly where the fire was.“I didn’t feel fear, just a sense of urgency to get everyone out,” she said. “This was a good lesson for the students to have — that when you hear an alarm, it doesn’t matter if you have to stop what you’re doing, get out of the building.”It’s advice echoed by Val Wolfe, Brock’s manager of Environment, Health and Safety. When an alarm sounds in Mackenzie Chown, leave the building and don’t re-enter until the all clear has been given, even if the alarm has stopped.Recovery costs from the fire are approaching $60,000. It started in an electrical room known as B411M, which is located near the B block elevator. The likely cause was an overheating electrical switch for an air-handling unit, Wolfe said.The fire caused smoke damage in the electrical room and smoke residue in the sleep lab and the fourth-floor B block atrium, she said. The electrical room has been rebuilt and the smoke-contaminated insulation removed, and the area has been thoroughly cleaned. The furniture in the sleep lab was treated off site with an ozonator, she said.“Facilities Management did a lot of work on getting the power back as quickly as possible,” she said. “We’re thankful we were able to resolve it in a week.”The fire caused a dusting of soot in the sleep lab, where experiments must be conducted in identical conditions. Subjects spend the night sleeping there, and students spend long hours working in the lab. For that reason, the lab only reopened Feb. 10 to make extra sure it was clean, Cote said. read more