Clemson Computing Information Technology

Quick thinking and great training stop CCIT fire


Perhaps there is no better time than during National Fire Prevention Month to shine the light on the importance of every Clemson employee knowing what to do to prevent a fire. Emergency situations usually occur when they’re least expected. It is important to be prepared to respond to them at a moment’s notice to save lives and property.

Early morning of October 12, Somesh Vontipalli and Roberto Hellebuyck were prepared, and their fire extinguisher training helped them prevent possible widespread damage and potential harm to a Clemson facility.

A microwave had caught fire in the canteen at the Information Technology Center, the primary campus data center for CCIT. Facilities’ Cynthia Johnson smelled smoke. Acting quickly, she notified Vontipalli and Hellebuyck from the Network Operations Center (NOC).

Heading toward the source of the smell, they found flames shooting out the back of an unused microwave, creating a dense cloud of smoke. Vontipalli and Hellebuyck leaped into action, locating the proper fire extinguishers and putting out the fire in less than 10 minutes. After safely unplugging the microwave, they contacted emergency services to help with cleanup.

The back of a microwave covered with fire extinguisher powder.
An unused microwave caught fire on October 12 but was quickly contained thanks to quick training from Vontipalli and Hellebuyck.

“The first thing that came to my mind was how we were trained to use the fire extinguisher correctly, and if we act quickly, we have a chance to bring the fire under control,” Vontipalli said.

Hellebuyck had a similar reaction as they approached the scene, quickly assessing whether the fire was one they could contain before contacting emergency services for assistance.

“’We might perish here if we don’t get out of the building’ was the first thought that came to mind when I heard the word ‘fire,’” Hellebuyck said.  “However, remembering the training, I assessed the fire risk first and decided it was manageable.”

Their quick actions meant instead of repairing and rebuilding a facility, cleanup merely consisted of clearing powder left from the extinguisher. Both men credited their reactions and composure to the training that is given to all University employees.

Two mircrowave applicances sit covered in powder on a kitchen counter also covered with powder.
Vontipalli and Hellebuyck managed to put out the fire thanks to the great training they received and preventing widespread harm and damage.

In addition to the online training, both Vontipalli and Hellebuyck were able to get hands-on training to use fire extinguishers. The Occupational and Environmental Safety team lit a small fire in a parking lot and employees got the opportunity to practice with an extinguisher and how to properly contain an outbreak.

“The training gives me a sense of satisfaction. A set of sequenced actions learned in the training can prevent delays and hesitation when quick action and response is required. It also taught me to work as a team,” Hellebuyck said.

“You need to be prepared. Accidents and other incidents usually happen when you least expect them. In the training, you rehearse and learn to anticipate the course of action to take.”

For Johnson, Vontipalli and Hellebuyck, who were the only ones available in the building at the time of the fire, knowing what to do and having practiced it kept them calm and able to execute during an emergency situation without putting themselves or each other in any further danger.

“To act properly during an emergency, we need to be confident with what we are dealing with and to gain confidence on something we need to practice that skill. The training made a lot difference on how we fought the fire that day. If anyone gets the chance like we did with hands-on training, I highly recommend it,” Vontipalli said.

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