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Blackout Traps 20 in Warren Towers Elevators

Three towers evacuated when a failed transformer blows power and generates smoke

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Twenty residents of Warren Towers were trapped in elevators for as long as two hours Saturday evening and appoximately 1,600 people were forced to vacate the triple tower high-rise dormitory when an arc flash shut down a transformer in the B Tower electrical room.

The electrical short, reported to the Boston Fire Department at 7:21 p.m., generated heat and smoke, but no injuries were reported.

William Walter, assistant vice president for operations and services in the Facilities Management and Planning office, says engineers are still investigating the cause of the short, which emanated from a high-voltage wire that enters the basement of B Tower and caused about $300,000 worth of damage. Walter says the short burned through insulation on electrical wires, sending smoke through the building and setting off sprinklers in the main foyer. It also knocked out electrical power in all three towers, necessitating immediate evacuation.

Walter says the evacuation of the enormous dormitory went smoothly.

“Everyone just came together,” he says.

Temporary mobile generators were quickly put in place and will be used over the course of the next few days as final repairs proceed. Those repairs, Walter says, may require two or three more brief power outages. Six elevator doors need repair, he adds, and one escalator was still not functioning as of Sunday evening.

BU Police sent three emergency alert messages to residents of Warren Towers, first advising students that 700 Commonwealth Ave. was being evacuated because of a blown transformer, then advising students that the building was ready for reoccupation shortly after midnight. Students were encouraged to wait out the power outage in the George Sherman Union, but many remained on the sidewalks of Comm Ave.

Women’s rowing team member Celestina Leon (CAS’12) says she was returning from rowing practice and looking forward to taking a shower when she learned that her dorm had been evacuated.

“I stood outside CAS for about two hours,” she says. “No one knew when we’d be let back in, so I finally went to a friend’s place. I got the message that we could go back at 12:28.”

Manpreet Kalra (COM’12) was writing a term paper, when her computer suddenly shut down. “People started coming out in the hall and asking each other if they had lost power too,” she says. “Then we stood on Comm Ave for five hours, which was too bad because this is the week we really had to work. I’ve lost a lot of time. Plus, the whole process was so exhausting that when it was over, I just wanted to sleep.”

Kelly Brescia (COM’12) also became aware of a problem when her computer suddenly went dark. She tried to find out what was going on from her RA and others, but no one had an answer. Once she was out of the building, Brescia says, she waited out the evacuation on Comm Ave, frustrated by a lack of information.

“At one point I counted 10 fire trucks,” she says. “But no one had any idea how long we would be there. It would have been nice to know more about what was happening.”

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

8 Comments

8 Comments on Blackout Traps 20 in Warren Towers Elevators

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2009 at 9:17 am

    information would be nice

    Thanks for this article, my friends and I were saying that we were expecting this article on Monday. Not only Warren should have gotten information. Why wasn’t the campus emailed in general to be reassured of the situation? Like Kelly Brescia, we all had no idea what was going on.

    And what was up with the fire trucks, police cars and ladders outside of the BU bookstore on Sunday?

    BU stop being secret-y

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2009 at 11:08 am

    This was handled really well, a nice contrast to the Myles evacuation earlier this semester–on which BU Today did not report, keeping residents even more in the dark.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2009 at 12:27 pm

    “Temporary mobile generators were quickly put in place”
    last a little bit of an understatement more like 4 hours later. I know it takes a while to get things like that but like the person above said the school completely ignored that fact that there were 1600 students sitting on the street until 12:30. They told us an hour and then 3 hours later they finally send a message. I’m really frustrated with the way this situation was handled. At least let us know in advance. Many of us could have found places to go if we knew it would be this long.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2009 at 2:40 pm

    If you read the FREEP, you would know that 2 students were trapped in an elevator in Myles Sunday night which explains the fire trucks in the area.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2009 at 9:29 pm

    As an alumna of BU, I enjoyed reading this article because it reminded me of the time I was in Warren Towers in 1991 and the entire dorm was exposed to carcinogenic toluene and booted out onto the sidewalk in the middle of the night with no notice except a fire alarm.

    We didn’t get back in for days and some of us were still in our pajamas.

    Good time, good times…

  • a resident at WRT on 04.27.2009 at 11:44 pm

    I don’t believe this article is highlighting accurately the extent of the emergency that occurred on Saturday. All of Warren Towers was evacuated, which doesn’t typically happen – which goes to show how dire the situation must have been. The type of blast that affected the transformer, for those who aren’t aware, is especially dangerous and could easily have caused injury, or worse, if individuals had been nearby. Smoke and heat can lead to a fire so this sounds like a legitimate concern. It must’ve took a long time for re-entry because safety and emergency personnel had to assess the situation and BE CERTAIN that the building was in fact COMPLETELY SAFE for residents to come back. We weren’t evacuated just because someone felt like it – it was necessary!

  • AP on 04.29.2009 at 10:56 pm

    It's ALWAYS B-tower

    I lived in B-tower a few years back, and for some reason, every, every fire alarm in the building was B tower.

    Smoke alarm malfunctions at 1 am? B-tower.
    SMG kid thinks setting off the fire alarm at 4 am during finals is funny? B tower.
    Senior RA burns his popcorn and sets off the fire alarm? B-tower.

    I have such fond memories of standing on the street at 4 am in December with sweats and winterwear hastily piled over my pjs while watching some guy with a guitar play/sing “The Song” and a girl standing there barefoot in a silk nightgown because “omggg the buidling’s on fireeeee!!” I also have fond memories of walking down from the 10th floor while B&G guys insensitively compared our fire drill to 9-11, which naturally made all of the New Yorkers’ blood boil.

    Seriously though, I was leaving a wedding at The Castle on Saturday night, heard an alarm going off and looked over, and of COURSE it was coming from Warren. Some things never change!

  • Anonymous on 08.21.2009 at 10:43 am

    Another one?

    Last night, we lost power for a few seconds at the LSEB just down the street (around 5:30 or 6pm). I left a few minutes later and saw a fire truck pulling up in front of Warren towers and several power generators lined up along the street in front of the towers.

    Did something else go wrong with the electrical room over there?

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