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Steam leak at East Campus

By Joanna E. Stone

Residents of the east parallel of East Campus were evacuated on Wednesday afternoon when a leak in a basement steam pipe sent a cloud of steam ascending through the staircase and garbage chute of the dorm, setting off several fire alarms and sprinkler systems in the process.

According to John C. Narcotta, a pipe shop supervisor for MIT Physical Plant, the leak occurred during a routine maintenance procedure in which a switch is made from one steam pipe line to another.

A gasket, compressed between the mechanical flange -- the mechanical joint of the steam pipe -- let go, Narcotta said.

"The steam leaked into the room, raised the temperature of the basement to about 165@# [F] and from there the fire protection system took over," he said.

Ryan A. Smith '92, who lives on the fifth floor of the parallel, was walking up the stairs at the time the gasket broke. "When I first saw the steam and heard the alarm, I thought there was a fire," he said.

When Smith reached the fifth floor, he saw the garbage chute open and watched as steam began to pour from it. "I went to shut the door but the steam fogged up my glasses," he said.

Smith eventually managed to lock the door to the garbage chute, shut the closet door, and open the window at the end of the hall.

One fifth floor resident expressed her appreciation to Smith. "He probably saved the floor from more excessive water damage," she said.

Floors below were not as fortunate. Residents returned to find hall carpeting soaked and some found puddles in front of their doors.

"I don't think there was a lot of damage [from the incident], but the moisture could create mold and mildew," Narcotta said.

Narcotta believes that this was an isolated incident and that there is little chance of such a leak occurring again. However, he said that Physical Plant plans to make a close inspection to look for any similar weaknesses in other steam lines on campus.

Residents of the building were forced to stand outside for nearly an hour waiting for the coast to clear while fire fighters and Physical Plant workers inspected the basement, opened all the staircase windows and let out all the steam.

Students living in the west parallel, who were not affected by the leak, provided background music for their displaced fellow residents, piping The Doors' "Light My Fire" onto the scene.