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Investigation Ongoing in Kendall Sq. Fire

MIT-Owned Building Transformer Explosion Kills One, Others Suffer Smoke Inhalation

By Eric S. Wang

The cause of the Friday, Dec. 8 fire in the basement of One Broadway is still under investigation by State Fire Services and the Cambridge Fire Department. The fire broke out at 10:45 a.m. when an NSTAR transformer exploded, resulting in the death of 28-year-old NSTAR employee Kevin Fidalgo. 30 others were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and 700 to 800 were evacuated.

The MIT-owned building, also known as Bldg. E70, is an investment property primarily occupied by small technology companies, several of which have ties to MIT. Patricia Richards of the MIT News Office said that 65 of the building’s occupants are in Sloan offices and 35 occupants are involved in the OpenCourseWare project.

NSTAR spokesperson Michael Durand reported that twelve buildings initially lost power, though all but One Broadway regained power before midnight. One Broadway was still without power yesterday evening, except for a temporary emergency generator.

“We all headed down the stairs until we hit very heavy smoke in the stairwell and couldn’t go any further,” said OCW Director Anne H. Margulies in an e-mail. “At that point we ended up going in different directions and it was really quite scary.”

“Things should have been in place” to prevent that much smoke, said Jennifer Mieth from State Fire Services, referring to the building’s fire code.

The exact cause of the fire is still unknown, pending an investigation by State Fire Services and the Cambridge Fire Department. Durand could not disclose if anything was known to be wrong with the transformer prior to the explosion.

Liability, if any, will be determined by the investigation.

According to a press release receive yesterday from State Fire Services, the investigation team is also examining why so much smoke entered the stairwells, making evacuation difficult. The release indicates that fire code compliance officers have identified where the smoke entered the fresh air duct.

The extent of the damage to the building, which was built in 1970 and acquired by MIT in 1999, is still being assessed.

To comply with code, mechanical and life safety engineers must design and implement corrective measures before the building can be re-occupied. The cost of the measures is still unknown.

Lt. Michael Assad of the MIT Police recalled a well-organized evacuation. “The entire community came together,” Lt. Assad said. “The Marriott, even though it’s a big corporation, was one of the first to come to MIT’s aid,” referring to the emergency medical triage that was set up in the Cambridge Marriott Hotel in Kendall Square.

Cambridge Police, MIT Medical Services, MIT-Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Corps, and MIT Environment, Health, and Safety also helped at the scene. Meanwhile, the Boston Fire Department responded to a call about a chemical odor in Bldg. 38 that turned out to be a false alarm due to strong-smelling floor wax.

OCW Facilities Coordinator Mary E. Westlund commented that there will most likely be a “small delay” in uploading the new OCW material this April. However, she did not think that there would be any major setbacks in the OCW project because of the fire. She mentioned that most of the servers are located elsewhere and that the MIT community has been supportive.

“People have been so generous,” Westlund said. “We’ve been offered space all over campus.”