Milroy discusses PRL fire aftermath

May 6, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

The model shop at Stanford’s Product Realization Lab (PRL) is expected to be operational May 18 following last month’s fire, according to PRL co-director Craig Milroy. The Apr. 23 blaze caused the Stanford Fire Marshal to briefly close the model shop, and led to machinery damage and an almost month-long repair process before classes can resume work there.

“[The restoration] is taking longer than anyone would want,” Milroy said. “But [the University is] just doing a phenomenally good job of dealing with us and helping us get back in shape.”

“Basically they’ve gone in and they’ve cleaned every surface in the shop, getting any smoke and water damage off of it they could,” Milroy added. “They’ve sealed the room up and pumped it full of ozone for two days…to get rid of that smoke smell, and then the painters and the floor people are going to come in.”

The second room in the model shop is already done with that part of the process, so today at about noon the shop will be reopened, although the machines won’t all be operational. Milroy intends to closely examine the machines with a millwright this afternoon.

“We’re trying to figure out which ones are damage beyond repair, which ones need repair and which ones survived just fine,” Milroy said. “It’s mostly an issue of water damage, as opposed to any other kind of damage.”

In a woodshop, the equipment isn’t usually lubricated with oil, like in a machine shop, because of the oil and wood dust. The dry lubricant isn’t water repellant.

“Already on Sunday morning the staff had started to deal a little bit with that damage and the cleaning crew also tried to deal with that damage and correct some of it,” Milroy said. “But they’ve had to cover all the equipment back up for the other cleaning process to take place.”

The shop’s table saw, which was right next to the fire, was out of commission after suffering water damage and relatively severe heat damage that could have impacted its safety systems.

“That’s a saw we really want running in excellent condition,” Milroy said.

He said that the University recognized this need and permitted the purchase of another saw. The new table saw will cost $4,200 plus tax, Milroy said.

Some equipment, including the band saws and the wood lathe, are more straightforward machines that do not need to be in pristine condition. Other pieces of equipment include two disc sanders, a belt sander and spindle sander, all of which were doused with water but still turn on. The extent of their internal rust damage is unclear.

“The sprinklers didn’t completely put that fire out, but damped it down quite a bit,” Milroy said.

When the firefighters arrived, they put out the remaining flames, but as part of the process added water and spread it to the floor in the second room, which otherwise only suffered smoke damage. Restoration and repairs began in earnest afterwards.

“The facilities people came in and said, ‘Okay, we need to get this shop up and running right away; it’s a teaching facility,’” Milroy said. “And so they started contracting with other groups to get the cleaning done.”

Since the fire, workers have looked at floor damage, painters have been lined up for next week and the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department came to do a hazard analysis.

Meanwhile, classes have seen some minor disruptions but none of them have had to radically change curriculum mid-stream.

One course, called “The Chair” and taught through the Department of Art and Art History, was using the PRL’s model shop and welding room. Although it was not previously planned, they have been able to work in the Art and Art History department’s sculpture lab and the PRL’s machine shop.

Another class, “Computer-Aided Product Creation,” is working in the foundry and requires so-called “pattern boards,” but since the model shop equipment was down, they had to contract with an outside firm to cut the pieces.

“Knock on wood, I think with a little readjustment everyone’s worked out pretty well,” Milroy said.

“I think the disturbance has been as minimal as it could be,” he added. “The University’s done a fantastic job of getting us back up and running.”

After the Apr. 23 fire and the death of an undergraduate at a Yale machine shop, EH&S is reviewing safety practices and policy with the PRL.

“Any time there’s an accident like this, you’d be foolish not to review the standard procedures in place and say, ‘could we have prevented this’ and ‘what could we do in the future to keep it from happening again,” Milroy said. “And we do that all the time, not just when there’s a disaster. We go through reviews of our procedures at least every year. I don’t think anything major’s going to change.”

One slight change, however, is the addition of a few pointers about fire prevention.

After the Yale incident, there is a “need to maintain vigilance,” Milroy said.

“As people start to use the shop, they probably get a little more calm and relaxed about using stuff and it’s our job to make sure we don’t let our guard down, know that there’s a lot of potential things that could happen and we want to minimize all those,” he added.

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