Chemical fire evacuates Sackett Building on Penn State campus

mcarroll@centredaily.comJune 22, 2013 

The quick thinking of a Penn State graduate student may have helped prevent serious damage when an apparent chemical fire started around noon Friday in the Sackett Building.

Dane Kelsey was among several students working in the building at the time when he smelled something burning and saw flames inside a chemical storage room.

That’s when the training took over.

Kelsey spotted a fire extinguisher near the door, and working with others, slipped on protective equipment and blasted the flames from a doorway.

“We go through a lot of safety training, stuff like that,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it. You just do it.”

Kelsey said he and another student attacked the flames twice, finally extinguishing them as Penn State police and Alpha Fire Company personnel were arriving at the scene.

Emergency crews took over from there, some of them wearing hazardous materials suits because of the chemicals stored in the facility. The building was evacuated while firefighters assessed the situation.

Penn State spokesman Reidar Jensen later said the fire appears to have started on a cart containing acid and oxidizers that had been rolled into storage.

Kelsey, who is studying environmental engineering, said the reaction between the substances creates heat, though he was unsure exactly how the fire started.

Jensen and students who were in the building at the time said no one was in the chemical storage room when the fire began.

Officials were still determining the extent of the damage Friday, but initial reports suggested the building sustained only smoke damage. Sections of the building were reopened to students and professors by around 1:30 p.m.

Jensen acknowledged the quick response by the students, as well as firefighters and police.

Kelsey said he was just happy to be in the right place at the right time.

“I’m glad it happened on a Friday, not a Saturday when no one would have been there,” he said.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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