Luck and help got Metals Development reopened quickly

ImageAmes Lab employees are probably all aware that an electrical fire in Metals Development knocked out power to that building (see the story in last month’s Insider) on June 29. But unless you were monitoring the emergency website, you may not have known that electrical power was amazingly restored by late Friday afternoon.

“We were really lucky that things fell into place to get the building back on line,” said Mike Vaclav, Ames Lab plant engineer. “We got excellent support from ISU’s Facilities Planning and Management, particularly (ISU utilities engineer) Randy Larabee and his staff. We were also lucky that the fire didn’t damage the incoming cables or the transformer just downstream from the switch.”

The fire was contained to a three-phase switch enclosure and destroyed the switch and large cartridge-type fuses. An Ames Fire Department crew extinguished the fire after the building was evacuated and were on the scene for a couple of hours to ventilate the building and assess the damage.

Because the equipment handles 4,160-volt power coming directly from the City of Ames feed lines, Ames Lab had to rely on ISU expertise to handle the high-voltage repairs. According to Vaclav, the system had a redundant switch that allowed the power to be rerouted which, along with the limited damage, allowed the building to be brought back on line so quickly.

“We’re not exactly sure what caused the fire in the first place,” Vaclav said. “The age of the equipment no doubt played a role, but at this point it’s probably not worth the cost of investigating it further.”

The damaged switch, along with the back-up switches that are the same vintage, will all be replaced. Bid specs for the specialized equipment will be written and according to Vaclav, indications are that it will be a minimum of 20 weeks to receive the parts once the order has been placed. He estimated it will be sometime in 2013 before repairs are fully completed. 

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Tin plates have been installed
on the switch enclosure where
the electrical fire occurred. It
may be 2013 before repairs are
completed.