Wisconsin-Madison Lab Fire

A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suffered burns and the loss of their favorite chair due to a fire that was started in the lab. A small lab fire usually wouldn’t make for interesting news, but see if you can spot something strange in the redacted narrative from the Madison Fire Department.

E4 found dry chem extinguisher activated, smoke, dry chem created haze on fire floor. found burned cushion chair in stairwell that was pushed there from room where reportedly students were working with chemicals that were spilled on to a chair that then started on fire. students came up with the idea to use a dry chem extinguisher as well as push the burning chair down the hallway to the stair well. It was reported to us that (deleted) was one of the students who was already at the UW hosp being treated for burns to his hand. E4 saw no one on the fire floor upon arrival.

The student took a burning item out of the laboratory and put it in the stairwell. A follow up revealed the student was worried about other chemicals in the lab catching on fire, but to the best of my knowledge most laboratories are designed to contain a lab fire. If the fire had gotten further out of control and caught the hallway and stairwell on fire, Madison might be missing a building today.

For future reference young graduate students the correct method for dealing with a burning chair in lab is the following. Rush to the safety shower and turn the flow of water on, then with a non-flammable object push the chair under the shower. Do not transport flaming objects outside the lab!

The chemical that started the fire was ethanol. Apparently the student was cleaning a pipette with an open flame nearby. As the student was shaking the pipette dry, a few drops of ethanol landed onto the chair and caught on fire.

The fire department received the call at 11:17 pm.

More media coverage: UW student burned in lab fire (The Cap Times)



  1. Best game of chair hockey ever?

    Seriously though, what chem grad student get’s that freaked out by a chair slowly catching on fire? Move it under a safety shower in case it gets out of hand, then break out the marshmallows.

    Even working with pyrophoric materials, the only fire I ever was freaked out by was a sodium/organic solvent (500 mL) fire I started by blindly following a bad procedure. My boss calmly reached over, grabbed the powder extinguisher, put out the jets of flame and said to me, ‘I think you were right, that should be done under argon.’ Third day on that job, *sigh*.

  2. then break out the marshmallows.

    I love the taste of plasticizer.

  3. Ahhhhhh, the days of misspent youth. Open flame and ethanol, eh ?
    It has been a long time since I have had an opportunity to have an
    open flame anywhere near chemicals. I do remember in one of the undergraduate labs, I was TAing, a student had lit the hose to the Bunsen burner on fire. We all have our faults. I remember being gassed out of the lab by someone distilling an organophosphate in the lab. We weren’t allowed back in for a long while.

  4. a student had lit the hose to the Bunsen burner on fire.

    I did that once, too, but quite by accident. I was teaching a new undergrad how to flame dry a flask. I made sure to tell him to move flammable solvent bottles out of the way… and it was a good thing I did. I was flame drying the flask with a bunsen burner like normal… but all of a sudden I must have torqued it the wrong way because the hose became unattached to the base of the bunsen burner. And the flame was just shooting out of the hose. I quickly shut off the natural gas and everything was fine. But it did give me an opportunity to explain why we move the flammable solvent bottles out of the way 🙂

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