1994 Dodge Hall fire leads to devastating damages, class cancelations

Autumn Page, Marketing Director

At 9:35 p.m. on March 14, 1994, Professor Virinder Moudgil was in his Dodge Hall office, grabbing his things, when he smelled a burning, rubber-like odor. He discovered a chemical fire in a biology lab and attempted to extinguish it with his fire extinguisher. He then called the Department of Public Safety and the police.

“I was so nervous, I had just told them to handle it, and I’ll wait outside. [Fire] can take you off the map like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “By the time I left, there was a little smoke in the building. I could have missed it, and it could have gone on for a long time before it was detected.” 

The damages resulted in Paul Bisson, vice president of finance and administration, and Gary Russi, vice president of academic affairs, having to cancel all classes and activities in Dodge Hall. 

Two police officers and 15 firefighters had to be treated for smoke inhalation, and four firefighters were kept overnight for observation at the Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital, according to Dr. Robert Aranosian, director of the emergency room. 

The commanding officer of Oakland University’s Police Operations Lieutenant Mel Gilroy spoke about the efforts of the firefighters. 

“They did a tremendous job containing this fire,” Gilroy said. “They attacked the lab right away. They were laying water down when the stuff started to blow up. That’s the people who were at the hospital, those in the first wave.”

The Auburn Hills and Rochester Fire Departments were sent to handle the fire at 10:15 that night. Just when the fire was contained in a single room, Room 304, it sparked up again between 12:30 and 1 a.m.

“We got a room that’s burned to the bone,” Gilroy said. “The lab itself is totaled. There is serious smoke damage and a lot of water.”

The Troy Hazardous Materials Team was called to help out the fire departments, and arrived a little after 11 p.m.

Since there weren’t any sprinklers or any ways to extinguish the fire inside the room, by around 3 a.m. the fire had traveled through the walls of room 304 to the northwest corner of the fourth floor. 

The fire continued to spread to the roof but was extinguished before it could reach the Eye Research Institute offices on the fourth floor.

“This was a serious fire, and they worked their butts off,” Gilroy said. “I expected the whole third or fourth floors would be burned off.” 

The fire came within a single room of $1 Million electron microscope — the microscope remained unharmed. 

After the dust settled, Moudgil spoke further about what had happened.

“Had something like this happened during the day-time, it would have been a different outcome,” he said.

He discussed further about how people could have been injured because of the smoke and flames.

Dodge Hall has since recovered, having dozens of classes everyday, along with an increased number of installed fire alarms and emergency exits.