Closet fire disables generator, upends weekend classes

By Cindy Pantoja, Staff Writer

After a small fire burned the backup generator in a downstairs corner closet in the Applied Arts Building early Saturday morning, students and faculty have realized that evacuation routes in case of an emergency are not clearly identified in the building.

Around 2 a.m. Saturday Police Services was alerted to an active fire alarm at Contra Costa College in the AA Building. The Richmond Fire Department responded immediately, and the fire was eradicated. A short circuit melted batteries in the generator causing a small fire and intense smoke in the closeted area.

Buildings and Grounds Manager Bruce King said, “Even though this was a minor issue, the fire department classified the incident as a fire.”

Denis Perez / The Advocate
An electric spark in a back up generator caused a small fire in the Applied Arts Building.

Since the backup generator in the AA Building is not functioning as a result of the fire, the lights that designate the emergency exits will not work if the building’s power goes off. In the meantime, maintenance workers have installed temporary battery-operated lights in the hallways just in case the power goes off and Police Services has stepped up its patrolling of the building.

It was open for classes as usual early Monday morning.

But since the building was renovated this past spring and summer it now lacks the maps all other campus buildings have posted that show an emergency exit route out of the building. Even when occupied, it takes about two minutes for emergency personnel to clear most buildings on campus.

“If there were no lights in the (AA) building and there was an emergency I wouldn’t know where to go,” computer science major Diego Treminio said. “I don’t know exactly where the exits are.”

Every building at CCC must conduct an annual fire drill where faculty, staff and students practice where to go during emergencies. However, even with new instructors in the building, the AA Building hasn’t had one this year.

On Saturday after the fire, the building was closed forcing some classes to be relocated to other buildings on campus. After installing the temporary emergency lighting, the AA Building has been deemed safe to be occupied by students and faculty.

“We spent the weekend making absolutely certain that the building is safe for today (Monday),” Contra Costa College President Katrina VanderWoude said. “I have seen the area where there was the problem. I walked through the building and I have seen where the lightning is and we are confident that we are in a good place (for re-opening the building).”

Repairs to damage caused by the fire are scheduled to take over the next two weeks. Special parts already have been ordered and contractors will be hired to repair the generator.

On Monday evening, Police Services officer Jose Olivera said he would be spending the evening shift inside the AA Building. He has fire safety training and he is confident he would be able to help occupants to vacate the building safely in the event of a fire. During the repairs over the coming weeks, police aides will be on hand in the building from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.