Campus goes nuts after squirrel hijinks: Damage causes electrical outages, other malfunctions

Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Wednesday was an eventful day for the electrical systems on campus, with fire alarms sounding, power shutting down, steam pipes leaking, an electric motor and belt overheating, fans expelling carbon monoxide indoors and a squirrel gnawing through the wires of a transformer.

Power was lost in many buildings on campus at around 8 a.m., Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president of media communications, wrote in an email to the Lariat. A Baylor Alert was released to students, faculty and staff in response to the incident and listed 18 buildings that were affected.

The outage was caused by a squirrel chewing through wires of a transformer, said J.C. Monroe, captain of Engine 4 for the Waco Fire Department.

Monroe mentioned that a fan motor burned up in the air conditioning unit of the Ed Crenshaw building around the same time as the power outage across campus, causing alarms to sound, as well as an electrical belt burning in the Memorial Residence Hall. Monroe said he attributes these occurrences to the power outage.

“It got up in the primaries — the higher voltage lines feeding that part of the campus,” he said. “They actually had protectors on the transformer, but the squirrel still managed to get up there and short out two of the three primary lines and that killed the power to that part of the campus.”

This wasn’t the first problem of the day for campus, though. Issues with steam pipes had been taking place in Draper Academic Building approximately 30 minutes before the squirrel caused the power outage.

Fire alarms in Draper, Old Main and Burleson Hall sounded earlier that morning around 7:30 a.m., according to Steve Eskew, Baylor fire safety specialist. A pipe in the basement of Draper was leaking steam to the point of filling the basement, to which the fire alarms reacted, Eskew said.

The Waco Fire Department responded to the triggered alarms, opening doors in Draper to air out the steam coming from the basement.

Firefighters used gasoline-powered fans to assist in ventilating the building, Monroe said. The fans emitted a small amount of carbon monoxide into Draper, he said.

Firefighters detected carbon monoxide levels that were slightly higher than normal in the stairwell above the basement, Eskew said.

“They essentially ran another fan or so in that area and within five minutes it had dissipated,” he said.

Electric fans were eventually used to replace the gas-powered fans after electricity returned to the building, Monroe said. Power had been restored to the last of the outage-afflicted buildings on campus by 9:32 a.m.

People were only allowed to re-enter Old Main, Draper and Burleson after Draper was fully ventilated. Some people entered Draper while fire alarms were still sounding, however, according to Houston junior Paula Solis, who was supposed to have class in Draper at 9:05 a.m. Solis said she felt there should have been an official Baylor Alert email warning students of the building’s closure, not just the sounding of the fire alarms to ward people off. She was worried about not being in the building and potentially missing a quiz.

“I can’t miss the quiz without an email from my professor excusing me from class or an email from the university excusing me from class,” she said.

Eskew said he did not feel a Baylor Alert email was required.

“If the fire alarm is going off with strobes and horns, you shouldn’t be entering the building,” he said. “You shouldn’t need an email to know not to go into a building when the fire alarm has been activated.”

The Waco Fire Department and Baylor Police Department have not conveyed what may have caused the steam leak in Draper.

As a result of the power outage, however, steam was eventually shut off to Pat Neff Hall, Draper, Alexander Residence Hall, the Memorial building, Allen Residence Hall and Dawson Residence Hall, Fogleman said. Steam was turned back on at the same time electricity was restored.

“There were multiple things going on at different buildings because of that one squirrel,” Monroe said. “A costly squirrel.”