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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Patterson Hall steam valve bursts, repairs finished

Steam rises out of the top of Patterson Hall West on Nov. 13. A steam relief valve caused an emergency evacuation of Patterson Hall residents around 2 a.m. on Nov. 14. (Courtesy of Lydia Dunker)

DeKALB – At 2 a.m. Tuesday in Patterson Hall, an alarm sounded, waking up students and evacuating them out of the residence hall. When students flooded outside, they realized it wasn’t a drill but an actual emergency. 

A steam valve had ruptured, triggering a fire alarm. 

John Heckmann, associate vice president of facilities management and campus services, said it started approximately at 2:00 a.m. 

“A steam relief valve released on a steam line in the basement mechanical room setting off a fire alarm,” Heckmann said. 

Mechanics were able to fully repair the valve around 3:30 a.m., and all the residents were allowed back into their dorms. 

Sara Davis, a junior early childhood major, said that she expected it to be a drill.

“I just remember we heard the really freaky fire alarm because it sounded different than most fire alarms I am used to, and we came downstairs, and it was just a bunch of smoke coming up from over there,” Davis said.

What many students believed was smoke turned out to be steam from a steam valve that had burst in the mechanical room of Patterson Hall’s basement.

“There was, like, this big steam. It kind of looked like smoke, but the steam pipe burst, and it was on the right side of the front of the building, and it was just, like, crawling up the wall,” sophomore art major Valentina Martinez said. 

Heckmann said it is not common for the steam relief valves to release. 

“This is a safety feature for the steam system which, unfortunately, can trigger fire alarm systems,” Heckmann said. 

The burst caused Patterson residents to be displaced to the Patterson Community Center, the lobby, until the alarm and relief valve was reset.

“It was kind of like everyone just waiting around on their phones, waiting for someone to say ‘hey, you guys can go back in now’ kind of situation,” Martinez said.

Heckmann said there was no damage done to Patterson’s interior or exterior.

“Residents were never in danger,” Heckmann said.

Brenden Davis, a sophomore biological science major, said other than not getting a follow-up announcement about the alarm, he thought the emergency team handled the situation well. 

“As soon as we came down here, there were already a bunch of officers and firefighters here, so I think it was a pretty quick response,” Davis said.

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