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Accident prompts brief evacuation of Capitol

Fire alarms sounded, but the cause of the commotion turned out to be far less exciting.

OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU - A truck damaged a sprinkler head in the Capitol garage Tuesday, prompting a fire alarm that caused the evacuation of the building.The House was in session, the T-shirted visitors were starting their tours, and then the fire alarm went off.

A perfectly ordinary Tuesday morning at the Capitol was disrupted by a nearly 15-minute evacuation of the building. As legislators, aides, lobbyists, press secretaries, reporters, canvassers and tourists waited in a cluster across State Street, public safety volunteers in powder-blue vests milling about with clipboards, there were some grumbles, some jokes and some speculation about the cause of the emergency.

The truth, it turns out, is not so exciting.

A delivery vehicle in the underground parking beneath the Capitol bumped an overhead fire sprinkler line, breaking a sprinkler head, according to David Palmer, the Capitol's facility services manager. Palmer said the damage was limited to the sprinkler head, which was replaced within the hour, and the cost of repairs was covered by the Legislature's standard maintenance and operations budget. But the fire alarm sounded throughout the building, prompting a full evacuation.

"No one was hurt and the damage to the garage was very minimal," Palmer said. "The water just ran to the floor drain."

While Tuesday's event was not a drill, Palmer said that both fire and earthquake drills are conducted "on a regular basis" at the Capitol, even during the legislative session.

Even though it was a minor incident, the State Employee Evacuation Team — they of the blue vests and clipboards — took it seriously. Palmer said each floor of the Capitol was checked to ensure everyone had evacuated before the alarm was switched off and people were allowed back in.

The fire alarm sounded at 10:43 a.m. Tuesday. The all-clear was given at 10:56 a.m., and the House resumed its business shortly thereafter.

The evacuation amounted to one more delay for House Bill 2883, a ban on the use of polystyrene food containers in restaurants. The bill was voted down on the floor the previous day — an unusual occurrence, although not the first time it's happened this session — due to a key vote's absence, so it was scheduled for reconsideration Tuesday. A floor speech in support of the bill was interrupted by the alarm.

With all 60 members of the House present, HB 2883 was approved Tuesday on a 32-28 vote.