Ulster University Catches Fire Before the Exam Period

Ulster University students at the Coleraine campus have had to rearrange themselves over their exam period over something none of them could predict, a fire. On May 7th, at around 10 am, a fire broke out in the G block building of the main campus.

The statement released by the University’s press office on the day of the fire went as follows:

“The NI Fire Service were called to Coleraine campus today to deal with a fire at G block.  That fire has now been extinguished and there are no casualties.”

“Contingency plans are being activated and students from the School of Pharmacy will receive details of a new venue for exams from Monday 9 May.” 

“Only a small number of students will be affected, all of whom will be updated by email from their Course Director within the next 24 hours. With the exception of those contingency arrangements, normal operations will resume on Sunday 8 May.”

The location where the fire started appeared to be in the science labs on the upper floor of the building which contained labs for the life sciences programs. According to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, 40 fire fighters attended to the fire with 6 appliances from the surrounding towns of Coleraine, Portrush, Portstewart, Ballymoney, and Kilrea.

The area was cordoned off by the university’s estates patrol from 10 AM till around 4 PM following the departure of the fire service although the building itself continued to be blocked off.

Multiple students and staff on campus at the time evacuated outside to the front of the university following the alarm going off. No one was injured during the event as very few people were on the campus that day. However, the fire itself was not the only risk.

The location of the fire, being either near or in the chem labs, presented a risk of aerosolized toxins in the air system. Those labs contained a whole host of different compounds that would be dangerous to inhale.

This meant that both the fire service and the university’s estates patrol have to wear masks or breathing apparatuses in order to re-enter the building in order to both combat the fire and help recover student belongings.

It was also because of this potential danger, that students and staff were advised to head home for the day if they did not need to be at the university. In the days that followed some students had to have their exams moved as the original rooms were no longer available.

One such student was first-year pharmacy student Emmet Leppard.

“We just had to move to a library room but there was plenty of space up there, so it wasn’t really an inconvenience,” Leppard said. “But before we got confirmation of a room change it was kind of in limbo whether or not it was gonna be in person.”

The university did continue normal operations the following day with signs to redirect those who needed to connect to the adjoining I block which houses the university’s English and Media departments

The building itself has since been blocked off with locked wooden barricades. The building now gives off the smell of butane gas with broken windows on the upper floor. Whatever was contained in the labs is likely to be lost due to the blaze.

The lower portion of the building contained computer labs which are likely to need replacing as water soaked through from the upper floor of the building. The campuses eye clinic was also blocked as it is part of the lower portion of the G block.

While the University has not released a statement on the amount in damages caused by the fire, the building is likely to require renovations. The labs contained specialized equipment needed to safely manage the compounds students and their professors would use for practical.

The chemicals themselves can also cost a high amount depending on the difficulty in acquiring and transporting them

If the computers in the lower part of the building require replacing as well then that will also lead to an increase in costs on top of the damages directly caused by the fire.

This is only factoring in what the rooms contained. The building itself will need new windows and the interior will likely need to be replaced for the lab including the walls, floor, and ceiling

Luckily no one was injured by the fire and the university was able to adapt to the situation in order to not disrupt the exam period to heavily for students, considering the number of changes the university has gone through with the COVID-19 pandemic and its ever-changing effects.

The cause of the fire is currently unknown and neither the fire service nor the university has released a statement on a potential cause.

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