The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 33.0°F | Overcast

Fire in MacGregor Triggers Sprinkler And Ousts Tower Residents Overnight

Courtney Clench -- The Tech
A grease fire last Tuesday in MacGregor House's tower set off the fire sprinklers, flooding the 16th floor and the towerUs electrical system.

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Residents of the MacGregor House tower were forced to sleep elsewhere last Tuesday night, after water from the sprinkler system, activated by a fire on the 16th floor, caused significant damage to the power systems of the building.

A babysitter for assistant housemaster JohnS. Wilson, director of foundation planning and assistant provost for fundraising, was cooking french fries in their 16th floor apartment when she stepped away for a minute and a grease fire developed, Wilson said.

"She did not know the sort of cardinal rule that you don't use water on a grease or oil fire"and she attempted to use water, which accelerated the flames until they touched the heat-sensitive sprinkler head located above the stove, Wilson said.

The head then discharged about 30 gallons of water per minute, said Robert T. Ramsay, Jr., MacGregor's house manager.

"As far as the fire was concerned, [damage] was pretty minimal."The water damage from the sprinkler was much more extensive, Ramsay said.

Before the sprinkler head was turned off by fire department and physical plant workers, over 400 gallons had been discharged. Water seeped under a door into a electrical closet on the floor that supplies the main power to the tower, Ramsay said.

As a result, the water had to be pumped out and the equipment dried before the power could be turned back on to the tower. Water was pumped out of the area until approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, and power was restored at 7 a.m.

A few students' rooms on the 14th and 15th floors also had wet carpeting following the incident as the water went down the stairwells, Ramsay said. "There was quite a bit of water in the A Entry lounge, because a lot of water went down the back staircase. It went underneath the doors on the 14th and 15th floors."

By Sunday, most of the damage to the apartment had been cleaned up. "We're trying to ensure that we don't encounter significant mildew or mold damage" by using portable fans, but the other damage had been fixed, Wilson said.

Most students go to other dorms

When physical plant determined that students would not be able to live in the MacGregor tower, the Institute's emergency action plan went into effect, Ramsay said.

Cots located at each dormitory's desk were collected and placed in the MacGregor dining area to provide temporary barracks-style housing for residents who could not find another place to spend the night.

"Thankfully, most students had already begun to leave for home"for the Thanksgiving vacation, lessening the needs for the housing, Ramsay said. Of the 158 students who live in the tower, only about a dozen people made use of the cots. "Most people went to other dormitories with friends or went to the low-rise."

"We feel bad about the accident if anyone was inconvenienced,"Wilson said, "but that is softened a bit by my knowledge that a number of students had already left."

"The cots don't look that all that comfortable,"said AaronD. Adler '01, who spent the night with friends in another dormitory.

Students were allowed into the building to collect what they needed when conditions permitted it,Ramsay said. "We did our best to escort them to their rooms and get whatever their immediate needs were."

Students living in the rest of MacGregor were unable to use their MITnet connections because of the power failure in the tower, Ramsay said. In addition, the laundry facilities were without power for those needing to do last-minute packing.

Hopefully, no students missed their plane ride as a result of the power outage. "We had one student that had a flight at 9 [p.m.] and we got him out of the building by 7:30,"Ramsay said.