Steam from cage washing machine sets off alarms at Life Science III

By Gus Bode

No one was injured when steam from a cage-washing machine set off the sprinkler system and fire alarms in Life Science III Thursday, university spokesman Rod Sievers said.

The machine is supposed to heat water to 140 degrees to wash the cages but malfunctioned, causing steam to build up and set off the alarms when it was opened, Sievers said.

“It’s like a big dishwasher,” he said. “It’s like 7 feet tall. Right above the door is one of these sprinkler systems, and it set that off.”


The Facilities Operations Center, which is manned 24 hours a day by Plant and Service Operations employees, received notification of a possible explosion at 8:41 a.m.

Emergency vehicles arrived at the scene by 8:50 a.m.

Two fire trucks, an emergency sport utility vehicle, an ambulance, several police cars and Center for Environmental Health and Safety employees were on the scene.

SIUC Police Chief Todd Sigler said this response is standard, especially in a building that houses chemicals, when the details of the incident are unknown.

“We sent some additional personnel to assist with securing the various entrances and exits out of the building,” Sigler said.

He said initial text messages and e-mails notifying students of the incident were sent at 9 a.m.

“There’s a fine line between getting information out in a timely manner but yet being as accurate as you can as well so that the information is useful,” Sigler said.


The building was evacuated immediately, but it was reopened at 9:20 a.m. Sievers said there is no way to know how many people were in the building.

Police would not release the name of the person who was in the room when the alarm went off.

The incident was isolated in room 1082, which has a drain in the floor that minimized water damage, Sievers said.

Plant and Service Operations Director Phil Gatton was unavailable Thursday to provide an estimate of the damages.

The university is not responsible for maintenance of the machine, Sievers said, but Plant and Service Operations responded to clean the area and repair the damages.

“They said it had malfunctioned a couple of weeks ago and the guy came in and fixed it, but apparently it was doing it again,” Sievers said.

Brandy Oxford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 255 or [email protected].