Boston University Lab Smoke Alarm Triggers Hazmat Response

BOSTON – A Boston University biomedical research facility housing highly infectious bacteria was evacuated March 21 when white smoke set off several alarms.

Smoke detected on the ninth floor of the university’s Center for Advanced Biomedical Research, which would typically lead to a one-alarm fire response, escalated into a large-scale operation due to the presence of a potentially dangerous pathogen. Firefighters in Hazmat suits quickly responded to the alarm, even setting up a decontamination shower. The smoking stopped once electricity was shut off.

Fire officials reported no evidence of contaminated air in the building. Facilities will not reopen until after the Boston Public Health Commission declares it safe.

The emergency response was considered a success by city officials. Firefighters appropriately escalated the response level considering the situation, and some were even familiar with the building layout from previous tours and inspections.

Francisella tularensis bacterium, which causes “rabbit fever,” is kept at the building’s Level-3 biosafety lab but was not threatened in the incident. Community activists have taken issue with the lab and it’s hazardous materials, concerned an incident such as this could lead to an outbreak of deadly viruses. Construction on an adjacent building containing a Level-4 lab is scheduled to be completed next month. It is set to house several of the world’s deadliest germs, including Ebola, plague and anthrax. Level-3 and Level-4 labs are the government’s two highest risk designations.

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