Electrical emergency caused by exploded transformer
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 21:10
A transformer in front of the Charles B. Gentry School of Education Building exploded and caught fire Wednesday, leaving several buildings on campus without power and leading UConn emergency response personnel to block off parts of Glenbrook Rd.
There were no injuries, said UConn Fire Chief John Mancini.
CL&P and the UConn electrical department are still investigating the cause of the explosion. Fire Chief Mancini said there is no danger and that the area was evacuated immediately following the explosion as a precaution.
Wood Hall and Jorgensen will remain without power until CL&P and the UConn electrical department are able to repair the switchbox, Mancini said. Capt. Hans D. Rhynhart of the UConn Police Department said it is uncertain how long repairs could take.
“Repair could be anywhere from two hours to twelve hours depending on whether they would need additional equipment,” Rhynhart said.
As a result of the explosion, the UConn server was down. Students could not access UConn sites, log into library computers or use Huskymail.
“The other thing that happened, I’m not sure, but as a result of the power outage, the university server stopped working so people were not able to receive e-mail,” Rhynhart said. “I think if you tried to access your email, it wouldn’t be able to. That’s where texting was the most efficient way to reach people. We wanted people to stay safe and stay away from that area to allow our emergency electrical workers to work there.”
The road was blocked off with emergency vehicles and police lines from one end of the Gentry Building to past the Central Utility Plant down the road.
“There was a big boom and flash and then the power went out,” said Joshua Wilson, a doctoral student of educational psychology who was in the Gentry Building at the time the transformer overheated. “A fireman told us it was possibly leaking PCBs, which might be flammable and hazardous to breathe in.”
Polychlorinated biphenyl molecules, or PCBs, were often used as coolant fluids and often mixed with mineral oil in transformers. PCBs were banned by U.S. Congress in 1979 due to their environmental toxicity and pollutant qualities.
A fireman on the scene who did not give his name was asked if the transformer was leaking anything, to which he replied, “No.”
Several UConn emergency response personnel and vehicles were on hand at the scene, including firemen, policemen and two men in hazmat suits that arrived via a Special Hazard High Voltage truck.
“This has happened before, the last time it happened was about five years ago up at Storrs Hall,” said another fireman at the scene who did not want to give his name. “Nothing was damaged.”
UConn students were notified by the UConn alert system shortly past 2 p.m. that there was an “electrical emergency in the area of the Gentry Bldg.” and to “stay clear of the area until further notice.”
“The lights went out and then they came back,” said Jennifer Wiley, a 2nd-year graduate student in the school of counseling who was on the third floor of the Gentry Building when the transformer overheated. “We all got the alerts on our phone but at this point nobody has told us what to do or where to go.”
Some rooms in the Gentry Building were closed, including the Department of Educational Psychology, which is located on the ground floor on the side of the building closest to Glenbrook Rd. The door had a sign on it that read, “Do not enter per UCFD 6-4925.”
Shortly after 3 p.m., UConn Alert sent out a message that read, “The electrical emergency has ended. It is now safe to return to your buildings and resume normal activities.” All power on campus was reportedly restored by 3:30 p.m.