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December fire alarm caused by elevator hydraulic fluid leak
January 31, 2016
Since the beginning of the academic school year there have been several fire alarms, some planned and some unplanned. In early December 2015, a hydraulic fluid line burst in an elevator shaft, spilling 55 gallons and causing the formation of enough smoke to set off the fire alarm.
According to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason, hydraulic fluid, which is oil-based, runs throughout the elevator system to keep the mechanisms operating smoothly.
“The elevator car keeps moving and there is essentially no oil there so the metal on metal created heat and therefore smoke, which automatically set off the fire detector,” Mason said. “As soon as any of the smoke detectors are hit, the alarms will go off.”
Mason said that at the time of the fire alarm there was a student in the elevator being assisted by a special education paraprofessional. The student’s name was not disclosed.
According to Mason, the source of the line burst was unclear.
“When an elevator goes up, underneath it there are all sorts of lines,” Mason said. “There’s rubber so it might have been that the rubber was so old that it degraded. It might have been that it hit something and got snagged and ripped. It could be any one of those things. I didn’t get a post-mortem on what they found.”
Mason said that the elevators receive regular maintenance both from contractors hired by the town and yearly state-run inspections. However, more frequent maintenance is requested when problems occur.
“Elevators are a complicated things,” Mason said. “There are a lot of moving parts and there are often problems with elevators so certainly more than once a month there is an elevator person here. I would say, between the three buildings, it is probably more than [once a month].”
Mason said that even though the problem was unexpected, elevator maintenance and the custodians knew exactly what to do.
“The custodians sealed off the elevator and went downstairs to the basement to what’s called the machine room, which is a pit at the bottom of the elevator,” Mason said. “They saw all the fluid down there and they have a special material they used to throw down on there to keep the oil from spreading. It is like pellets they use to dry up and clean up oil spills. It’s not that uncommon.”
According to Mason the elevator was only out of service for a short period of time and when it resumed function, the hydraulic fluid had been taken care of.
“It was out of service until they got the fluid put back in, which is what happened at the end of the day,” Mason said. “They had to order the drum of hydraulic fluid and the drum came the next day. The elevator got back up the following day.”