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Workers’ tools spark blaze in SJU dormitory basement

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A flash fire broke out in the basement of a St. John's University dormitory around 2 p.m. last Thursday, causing burns to the face and chest of a worker who was installing equipment to improve cell-phone reception in the building.

About 60 firemen responded to the call, and the fire in a storage utility room of Hollis Hall was under control within 10 minutes, said Sean Johnson, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

"Aside from the worker being injured, it was a fairly minor incident," said Jody Fisher, a spokesman for the university.

The injured worker was taken to Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where he was in stable condition on Tuesday. He was one of two employees of the Highland Construction Co. in Rockland County who were installing the equipment at the university's dormitory. The second worker was not injured.

According to Fisher, the two workers were installing the electrical equipment side by side, using handheld tools that emitted sparks. Sparks from the tool of one of the workers fell into a bucket filled with a type of glue substance as he was mounting the equipment on the wall. The glue ignited in a flash, burning the worker in the face and chest.

Fisher said he did not know what the glue substance was.

Calls to the Highland Construction Co. were not returned.

At the time of the fire, the dormitory was closed to students for the summer and occupied only by a person at the front desk and one or two other employees, Fisher said. The few employees were evacuated from the building when the Fire Department responded.

"The fire was very far away from the employees, in a basement room made out of cinder-block construction," Fisher said. "And there's fire-proofing material throughout the entire building."

Fisher said he was glad that the injured worker's condition had improved. The cell-phone antenna work would be finished at a later date, he said.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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