Monday afternoon, McGill’s downtown campus was shaken by an explosion in the Otto Maass chemistry building and a fire on the sixth floor of Leacock – forcing the evacuation of hundreds of students and staff and the closing of both buildings for several hours.
Pierre Barbarie, Associate Director of University Safety, said McGill Security has yet to determine the cause of the Leacock incident, and that the fire department is investigating what appear to be suspicious circumstances.
Though no one was hurt in the fire, a student was injured in the explosion on Otto Maass’s third floor, when his chemical reaction accidentally detonated. The student suffered cuts on his hands, face, and chest, and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The office of the Dean of Students could not be reached for comment on the student’s status.
Barbarie said, though, that he was pleased with how both of the situations were handled, and that buildings’ occupants took the alarms seriously.
“I want to commend everyone who evacuated quickly. The co-ordination of the response to these incidents went very well,” Barbarie said.
According to McGill Security Services, the Leacock fire originated in boxes that were stacked up in the 617 seminar room. Once the alarm was activated at 1:08 p.m., Leacock and the attached Arts Building and Dawson Hall were safely evacuated as fire trucks arrived on the scene.
Security services personnel blocked indoor and outdoor access to Leacock until 5:45 p.m. – a full five hours after the fire broke out.
Barbarie explained that Security was delayed in reopening the building because the fire panel, which controls the building emergency system, had to be reset by the contracted company, and Security needed to clean up to ensure safety. However, certain students and staff were escorted back into the building to recover important belongings before Leacock was re-opened.
As of 6:15 p.m., the smell of smoke still hung in the air on the ground floor, in the elevator, and on the sixth floor where fire department and security personnel were still on-site.
In Otto Maass, researchers on the fourth floor reported hearing the fire alarm and evacuating between 3:30 and 4 p.m., but did not report hearing or feeling any impact from the explosion. The 911 call at Otto Maass was taken at Security Services at 3:37 p.m. and the building was evacuated, re-opening at 4:35 p.m., except for the third floor.