Thursday—Around 10:15 p.m., the West Residence Hall at the University of Massachusetts Boston was surrounded by two fire trucks from the Boston Fire Department, four police cars, and a Boston EMS ambulance in response to a Level 2 hazmat situation on the ninth floor of the building. The situation involved enamel and varnish, resulting in an individual being taken away by paramedics.
The Greater Boston Radio reported that at 10:07 p.m. a call went out to emergency personnel regarding a situation where “enamel and varnish were mixed together” at the UMass Boston campus dorms. The public information officer for the Boston Fire Department reported that they were on the scene within five minutes of the call.
Around 10:20 p.m., an individual was carried out in a hazmat body suit on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. There has been a lot of speculation of how the person was found. As of yet, we are still uncertain about the circumstances of the incident.
First responders, however, are not equipped to deal with hazmat situations, and so extra personnel were called in. The incident was deemed a Level 2 hazmat situation, “an incident involving hazardous materials [ … that] can pose immediate and long-term risk to the environment and public health.” (1)
Spectators in the East Residence Hall reported that their RAs told them to stay inside their rooms and away from their windows. Students from the West Building getting Late-Night Bites in the East Building were barred from returning to their dorms until the paramedics and fire personnel left, and four RAs were stationed at the front entrance of the East Building, preventing students from leaving. Around 10:50 p.m., the paramedics and fire personnel left, allowing West Building residents held back in the East Building to return to their building.
An eighth-floor West Building resident said, “I was terrified, especially because I didn't know what was going on for a long time.” A seventh-floor West Building resident reported, “I looked outside and saw a bunch of red lights and fire trucks outside. All I heard was [sic] rumors flying around. I was scared and freaking out 'cause I knew something bad was going on and I did not know what was true and what was a lie. They should've evacuated us.”
The Office of Housing and Residential Life sent out an email to the dorm residents—though, not to the entire student body—at 5:42 p.m. on Friday, stating that “university housing staff responded to a report of a smoke detector activation in an individual residential room on the 9th floor of the West residence hall. It was discovered by hall staff that some over-the-counter chemicals the staff thought might be potentially dangerous were in the room. In an abundance of caution, emergency services were called and a [h]azmat team soon cleared the room, determining there was no danger to the residential community, including the room and adjacent areas.” While this answers some questions, nowhere in the email is a potentially injured individual mentioned.
Frustration regarding the email was immediate. One student reported, “The person on the stretcher wasn’t mentioned at all, and I think it’s important we know what happened.”
The school’s delay in response, as well as the incompleteness of the email residents received, gave time for observers to speculate. Based on the conversations among those present, it seems that many say that a student allegedly attempted to manufacture a substance similar to bath salts, a “synthetic cathinone [that is] marketed as cheap substitutes for other stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine.” (2) This student supposedly fainted due to an adverse chemical reaction.
As of yet, the exact circumstances surrounding the event are still unsure, and many are waiting for the school to provide a proper account of the incident. Updates to come.