Campus pulls together in aftermath of fire

Heat was so intense in the steam tunnel fire that this sign was melted. (photos courtesy of Facilities Services)

An extraordinary effort by more than 100 Oregon State University staff and professional faculty in the wake of a disastrous fire is being honored today by President Ed Ray at a private luncheon.

Early on the morning of Nov. 24, an electrical fire and arc flash explosion turned a portion of the steam tunnels running under the campus into a fireworks show. The result was a mass of melted wires and cables crucial to the phone and network systems of many campus buildings.

The ensuing chaos forced a campus closure by noon the same day, but although for many campus employees that meant an early start to their Thanksgiving holiday, for countless others it was the beginning of more than a week of non-stop work.

“All of us are pretty amazed,” said President Ed Ray, speaking about the tireless work that went into restoring phone and network services to campus. “People just dropped everything to help. These are people who didn’t stop to think about themselves at all.”

From public safety officers to registrar staff, media services to communications staff, the OSU campus community scrambled to respond.

Ray has continued to speak out about the commitment staff has shown to getting the university up and running as quickly as possible, under the most difficult of circumstances.  The appreciation lunch, hosted by Ray and Provost Sabah Randhawa, will honor staff from network services, campus safety, facilities, media services, technology services, Oregon State Police and other areas on campus that pitched in to help during the last week.

Jon Dolan, Associate Director for Network Services, is effusive in his praise for the work that has taken place.

“This outage constitutes the worst possible scenario (short of Kerr collapsing) that we could have envisioned in our disaster planning,” Dolan said, “and the fact that we have been able to restore service so quickly is simply amazing.  I am humbled to work with such dedicated people.”

Dolan said there were a number of people who went so far beyond the call of duty that he wanted to recognize them. Greg Edmaiston, cable plant manager, was on site at 4 a.m. Nov. 24 to assess the scope of the problem, and orchestrated the repairs around the clock.

“He’s been there since the beginning, lining up contractors and ordering materials to get what should have been a month-long project done in a week,” Dolan said.

Dave Barrett, lead telephone technician, was also on-site nearly non-stop leading crews in the demolition and repair of phone cables, as well as getting alarms working in buildings.

“He’s gotten here early and stayed late every day,” Dolan said.

This was the scene that greeted crews after the steam tunnel fire. (photo courtesy of Facilities Services)

Ian Downie, senior wireless engineer, Josh Crowl, operational systems network analyst, and Bill Myers, senior network engineer (retired), also worked tirelessly to install temporary measures to restore building network connectivity, even when that meant throwing copper wire between buildings for a quick temporary fix.

Tom Williams in media services could even be seen in a harness over the weekend, dangling from the sides of buildings in an attempt to get wireless links working.

Thanks to all those efforts, campus is nearly back to normal. The last temporary network fixes will be made secure by Friday afternoon, and over the weekend phone systems should finally be up at full capacity, with tweaking expected over the next few weeks. In all, Dolan said, it’s nothing short of miraculous.

Lois Brooks, Vice Provost for Central Administration Services, said Dolan was essential to the success of the repairs.

“He’s the reason we were able to pull together such a rapid and effective response for the networking outages,” she said.

Vincent Martorello, director of Facilities Services, also witnessed some miracles over the last week. One of the most creative solutions to the problem of phone service loss was the work Rich Brookes and Brandon Wells did when they established a temporary roof top phone wire network, allowing OSU to reestablish elevator emergency phone service and alarm service to buildings.

“In addition, Brookes secured 14,000 linear feet of the necessary wire late Saturday afternoon from a local vendor, thus allowing work to begin early Sunday morning,” Martorello said.


Andy Gray pulled Minority Abatement Contractors, Inc from another OSU project to tackle abatement in the steam tunnel late Wednesday afternoon, which then allowed Facilities Services workers to enter the tunnels and install the steam pipe insulation.

When they discovered that the only available steam pipe insulation was in Portland, Kevin Christman and Pete Schoonover took an emergency trip up to Portland Wednesday afternoon. They arrived back at OSU at 9:30 p.m. and worked until 1 a.m. installing the pipe, along with Andy Gray, to ensure repair efforts could start first thing Thursday morning.

Stuart Larson spent countless hours coordinating the efforts between Pacific Power and Light (PPL) and the OSU electrical team in a manner that kept everyone safe and working efficiently.

Finally, Martorello said Max Archibald from PPL, “Once again demonstrated his dedication and love for OSU by tirelessly working and motivating people around him to progress through the repairs as safely and quickly as possible.”

8 Responses to “Campus pulls together in aftermath of fire”

  1. Sherri Hawkins says:

    I am amazed at the teamwork I witnessed between everyone through the Thanksgiving week-end in the short time I was on site & the cooperation and assistance of all involved from the date of the incident through today. It is that kind of attitude that allows me to do my job successfully for OSU. Thank you!

  2. Pam Bielenberg, Western Center, COE says:

    As a fairly new employee of OSU, I was impressed with the timely communications I received on the status of the repairs all weekend! Those communications also helped me keep in mind the dedicated people scrambling in the cold weather to fix OSU on a holiday! Thanks so much!! And I would love to see more photos of the meltdown and repair efforts put up somewhere.

  3. Stephen Pilkerton, Forest Engineering, Resources and Management says:

    Outstanding and deserving recognition of the individuals who make OSU look great, on a daily basis and in crisis mode.
    Maybe I missed earlier recognition, but how and who put the fire out?

  4. George Voss, Student Health Services says:

    All of us at Student Health Services are deeply grateful to everyone who was involved in the restoration of data and voice services for us here at the Health Center as well as the rest of campus. For us the event was a huge inconvenience but for all the folks involved in the repair work it was a sacrifice of a holiday weekend with their families and a ton of extra effort. Work that could have taken a month was completed in a week and a half. That was an amazingly, herculean effort. We can not say “THANK YOU” enough. Job well done.

  5. Phil Histand, MD says:

    My sincere thanks to all mentioned in the article and many others who helped get Student Health Services back up and running in just over a week. We were severely impacted by the loss of data and phones and were operating under our emergency back-up plan for several days. My thanks also to the Student Health Services staff for their adaptability, ingenuity and hard work during this challenging time.

  6. Kaci Buhl, EMT says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I would like to recognize Patty Zetzmann, of Network Services, who worked tirelessly to help our phone center continue operations through the crisis.

  7. Allison Lee, Student Health Services says:

    Please accept my deepest appreciation for this speedy recovery. Student Health Services Laboratory was managed with paper workflow since all the systems and interfaces were down. This is the best Xmas present that I could hope for. Thanks for all the OSU staff who worked relentlessly to bring us alive!

  8. Kathleen Burke, Student Health Services Lab says:

    The repairs after the fire were extensive and innovative. We were called on to work together as an effective team and we did it, each one of us. The only name I recognize in the article is Pete Schoonover, and I appreciate Pete’s drive to Portland to pick up needed supplies and arrival home late at night.