Fire in Medical School caused by welding torch

Puneet Kollipara

A fire broke out this morning in a lab on the School of Medicine’s campus, prompting an evacuation of the building and causing minor structural damage. No one was injured.

According to John Ursch, director of protective services at the School of Medicine, the fire started at approximately 8:53 a.m. in McDonnell Science Building room 361 when a contract welder’s acetylene tank fell over and ignited, engulfing the room in flames.

The worker began fighting the fire with a dry chemical fire extinguisher but soon evacuated and pulled the fire alarm. A protective services dispatcher called 911, and protective services used fire extinguishers to control the flames until help could arrive.

According to Kim Bacon, public information officer for the St. Louis Fire Department (SLFD), a 911 call was received a few minutes after 9 a.m. reporting the fire.

The fire was confined solely to the lab room. Firefighters with SLFD arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire by 9:10 a.m., said Bacon.

“Visually inspecting it, the room was well scorched,” said Ursch. “In terms of the bigger picture.the damage was minimal.”

According to Joni Westerhouse, executive director for medical communications, McDonnell 361 is currently an unoccupied laboratory. The building’s third floor has been undergoing renovations and, according to Ursch, will house new laboratory space for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The building, located at 4566 Scott Ave., and surrounding area were evacuated for safety purposes. Because the floor was under renovation, the lab room where the fire occurred was essentially barren and the damage was mostly structural.

According to an e-mail sent out by Bruce Backus, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, damages included a burnt cart, a damaged pneumatic line and water damage to floors, walls and the ceiling.

Ursch said that the situation could have been worse, but thanks to the actions by the worker, the protective service officials’ response and the quick arrival and large presence of the fire department, the fire’s effects were minimal, and probably looked worse than it actually was.

“When you put it all together, we were probably very lucky in that regard,” said Ursch. “All and all, despite the smoke and despite the consternation, it was still a relatively minor fire.”

Information was not initially available regarding the name of the construction company working on the McDonnell third floor renovation.

Check back with on Wednesday for complete details.

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