What to Do if the Halon System Discharges

Run. Evacuate as quickly as possible.

I’d like to say that this is just conjecture or something I’ve read, but this morning we got to find out for sure. 25 years ago, when the building was designed the room that broadcast control occupies now was the server room for IT. When they built it, they installed a halon 1301 fire suppression system. Two and a half decades later, it went off.

It was one of those one in a million fluke things. A volunteer put something against the wall, which fell into the pull switch for the alarm. (See picture for just how small of a hole it had to hit) When that happens there is supposed to be at least 10 seconds, if not more like 30, before the halon discharges. Right next to the pull switch is a kill button. If you accidently set off the system, you can hold that button down and prevent the Halon from firing.

In this case, I heard someone say, “Oh no!” and then the alarm sounded. I had enough time to look up and start to get up when halon began filling the room. It was maybe 3 seconds, maybe. Nowhere near enough to make it to the button, or even ask someone closer to push it.

Near me was our veteran video engineer. He helps keep our ancient gear looking acceptable. He’s worked everywhere, and knows a ton about broadcast gear. So, when his first response was to turn and run toward the door, I knew we were in serious trouble.

People poured out of the control room. Luckily we had already met before the service, and most people were out heading toward their posts. Still, we had seven or eight people in the room when the halon fired. I was at the door yelling for everyone to get out, watching a white cloud of halon gas envelope the room. The audio engineers where in the back room, and when I looked at the doorway I saw nothing but white clouds. I later learned that our A1 for the service got a face full of the gas. He was standing up, and the nozzle sprayed right at him.

He could not see, and was stumbling out of that room, when he tripped over another volunteer. Both got up and rushed out the door. Meanwhile, we got the other door open for the machine room (which actually doesn’t have a halon system) and got those folks out.

The general fire alarm was going off. Once I figured out we had everyone out, I ran to security and told them it was a false alarm, but that the halon system discharged in broadcast, so please let the fire department know.

Paramedics came and looked at our A1. The Fire Department came and killed most of the alarms, but they had to wait for HazMat to come before entering broadcast.

Meanwhile we had a service to do. We had no access to anything in the video realm. The switcher was on the preservice loop, and the internet was being sent a “We will begin in a moment” graphic. The beginning of the service had a Parent Commitment segment, and I needed to video tape that. We had no screens and no prompter.

One of our cameras was out being used to record a class, so we called that back in just in time to capture the Parent Commitment portion. The musicians got sheet music and stands, and led that way. We had audio and lighting, but no video. We went up and turned off all projectors.

And the service went on. And God was worshipped. The word was spoken and people responded. There’s no doubt that in a room our size, screens help, but it’s obvious they are not necessary. A bigger question is what will we broadcast next week?

When it was all said in done, they brought in some sort of machine to clear the gas from the room. (You could get light headed standing in the hallway outside the door.) They blocked off the back hallway and after about an hour we could get back into the space. White dust was everywhere. Clean up tomorrow will be a chore

Of course, people stopped using halon systems years ago. Now we get to figure out what to replace it with.