February 13, 2001

No One Injured in Ivy Room Grill Fire

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Willard Straight Hall was evacuated for more than two hours yesterday morning due to a grill fire in the Ivy Room which spread into the ventilation system and caused the temporary closure of the Ivy Room, Okenshield’s and Cascadeli.

The fire began at approximately 11:15 a.m. in the short order grill area of the Ivy Room when hamburgers that were being prepared on the grill for lunch caught on fire. The fire got carried away into the ventilation system, according to Eileen M. Hughes, executive chef of campus life dining. This activated the fire alarm and sprinkler system at which time the entire building was evacuated.

No one was hurt, she said.

Yesterday’s fire is the third one in less than a year that occurred in the Ivy Room, according to Raymond Wheaton, Ithaca fire marshall. The most recent one occurred last week on the same grill. Employees got the fire under control with minimal damage, and continued to operate the grill.

While the exact cause of yesterday’s fire is yet to be determined, it is known that the fusible links inside the ventilation system did not work properly in the Ivy Room, he said.

“The fire never got out of the area,” Wheaton noted.

A grill fire occurs as a result of too much grease or fat collecting on spaces designed for that purpose, which catch fire and burn. The fat acts as a fuel, and if the fire gets out of control, the fire gets sucked into a ventilation hood, according to Barbara Snell, a manager at Willard Straight Dining.

In this situation, there is a fusible link that is supposed to melt at a certain temperature and release a chemical to put out the fire. The fusible link worked properly on the sixth floor, but failed to work in the Ivy Room.

“There is a problem here someplace … it may be a lack of maintenance and third party problems,” Wheaton added.

Currently, the biggest issue after the fire concerns the fan motor system which needs to be repaired and sent out of town, he said. Other affected areas include the washing and ventilation systems, two cash registers which melted and the top floor of the Straight, which suffered a considerable amount of damage.

“A lot of the infrastructure will have to be repaired,” Wheaton said. He also noted that the way the firemen accessed the ventilation system was by taking off wooden panels and concrete on the fifth floor.

As a result of the fire, both the Ivy Room and Okenshield’s were closed until dinnertime last night. According to Snell, due to damage from the fire the Ivy Room will, until further notice, only serve cold food, salad bar, deli and grab-and-go stations.

Both dining halls share a ventilation system and dishwasher, and consequently, only paper goods will be utilized until the dishwashing system is repaired. Okenshield’s was able to serve hot foods last night, as a result of the food deliveries from Robert Purcell and Jansen’s dining facilities.

“They [The dining facilities] are being supportive of our dilemma in the interest of customer service,” Snell said. “This will go on as long as needed until the ventilation system is fixed.”

The food that was left during the evacuation of the Straight was discarded, in accordance with the department of public health. Other food was protected by the cooking staff prior to leaving the building. The Tompkins County Health Department arrived on the scene yesterday and assessed the food and checked its temperature.

Hughes added that “People left a lot of personal things in the dining room.”

Anyone still missing belongings should contact a manager in a Straight dining facility.

Jonathan Lewinsohn ’02, was eating lunch in the Ivy Room when the fire occurred. “It was really scary and there was tons of smoke throughout Willard Straight,” he said. “Some people actually grabbed their plates and ate their lunch outside.”

Archived article by Rachel Pessah