Palm residents evacuate amid strange odors


Students living in the Palm Apartments were ordered to evacuate the building at 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 14. Students say there was an unpleasant smell coming from the hallways of the building, originating from the air vents.

Abby Dohrmann, sophomore new media production major, who lives on the second floor of Palm, said she started to smell something weird around 12:00 a.m. when she was in her room studying. “When we went outside our room to check what was going on, the hallway reeked. We thought it was a gas leak,” said Dohrmann. Dohrmann and her roommate decided to call campus safety and inform them of the smell.

“When we were on the phone with Campus Safety, the alarm in the building went off,” said Dohrmann.

Dohrmann said that at least three or four fire trucks arrived on the scene. “A police officer came and told us we were going to have to wait a while before we could go back inside,” said Dohrmann. However, by the time she reached Straz hall, the students were already told it was safe to go back inside. Dohrmann entered her dorm again at 1:16 a.m..

Talea Garabo, sophomore psychology major, who lives on the fifth floor of Palm, said she could smell the odor from her bed. “I was laying in bed and it started to smell like burning rubber and I got up to go in the kitchen to if something was left on and it smelt like ten times worse,” said Garabo.

When the students were outside they noticed a fog that clogged all of the windows on the fourth floor. There is a sign hung up on the second floor by the elevators that says that the AC unit on the lower side of the building overheated and that the emergency evacuation was not related to a gas leak. From the fourth floor down there is no AC working.

Dohrmann said the evacuation was hectic, among concerns of the smell relating to a fire or a possible gas leak.

“Kids were panicking because we hadn’t had a fire drill yet,” said Dohrmann.

“Fire drills traditionally occur near the middle of the semester. However, with newer residence halls there are still some challenges to work through during the first year,” said Sabrina Griffith, director of residential communities. Griffith said that the fire drill was scheduled but the alarm company was concerned with glitches in the drill system.

“For instance, they were concerned that once an alarm was sounded in the drill mode, it may sound all night.  With that concern, the company worked over several weeks to ensure the system would operate in all modes effectively and the new date for the drill had not be established prior to this incident,” said Griffith.

Griffith also said that the reason there was a burning rubber smell coming from the vents was because of an issue with the AC unit.

“Palm I [first phase of Palm Apartments] has fresh air [ventilation] provided by a single air conditioning unit on the top floor to all floors/suites of that phase,” Griffith said.  “The bearings on the fan shaft failed, causing the fan to seize while the belts tried to run.  The rubber belts eventually heated up until the point of failure and broke. There was no fire, but the smell was the burning belts (rubber); similar to when the rubber belt on a vacuum cleaner gets stuck.”

It is believed that the particles of rubber traveled down through the ductwork and caused the smoke detector to shut down the unit. The detector then alerted Campus Safety with three supervisory alarms. The AC units were not affected and now continue to run.

Claudia Guerrero can be reached at

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