A mistake involving the fire extinguishers overwhelmed the audience at ‘Canes Take Flight, a hallmark of freshman orientation, causing some of them to seek medical attention.
“If it was like 10 seconds longer, I might have passed out,” said a freshman who was in the middle of the cloud of gas and asked to remain anonymous. “You couldn’t breathe,” said another who also asked to remain anonymous.
On Wednesday, August 16, the freshman class had its orientation interrupted by what appeared to be an excessive amount of gas pouring out of the fire extinguishers, a traditional spirit activity.
‘Canes have long been familiar with “The Smoke” at ‘Canes traditions. Throughout the crowd, volunteers stand by with the extinguishers, then release them simultaneously. The crowd cheers on cue, as the cloud of gas dissipates.
As Sebastian the Ibis ran on stage at ‘Canes Take Flight, the fire extinguishers were released. One freshman observed the gas did not dissipate as usual, but instead began to fall over the crowd.
“There was definitely some panic from that section,” said Ian Graves, a freshman studying broadcast journalism who observed the incident from a distance.
The two freshmen who asked to remain anonymous reported a bad taste that lasted for the rest of the day in their throat, coughing problems that persisted after the incident and one needed to seek ongoing medical care.
“It tasted very bad,” said one of the freshmen.
“They didn’t do it on purpose. I know it was an accident,” he added.
The usual fire extinguisher cloud is likely composed of carbon dioxide, a gas that rapidly dissipates in outdoor spaces and has a range of three to eight feet. The Miami Hurricane has received reports that this is true, but has not been able to verify the type of fire extinguisher with UM.
In the aftermath of the incident, powder was visible across the Watsco Center floor, and some students reported being covered in it. The extinguishers that leave behind a powder are called “ordinary dry chemical” and contain “very small particulates” according to the National Fire Protection Association. Poison Control reports that the powder causes mild irritation to the nose, throat and lungs, but can have more serious respiratory effects if inhaled at close range or inhaled by someone with a lung condition.
Patricia A. Whitely, the senior vice president for student affairs and alumni engagement, confirmed that the extinguishers used at ‘Canes Take Flight “were inadvertently used” and contained “an incorrect substance.”
Those who sought medical attention were discharged the following day. However, The Miami Hurricane has received at least one report of continued medical challenges.
“All were released and we will continue to follow up with them in the coming days,” said Dr. Whitely in her statement to the Hurricane.
Orientation and Student Involvement (OSCI), the organization that hosts ‘Canes Take Flight, asked the students who help run orientation to not speak about the incident.
Michael Baumhardt, the director of OSCI programs, declined to comment on the incident. He deferred to university communications.
“The safety and security of our students and University community are always paramount and of utmost importance, and all efforts are being made to understand how this occurred and how it will be prevented in the future,” said Dr. Whitely in her statement.
OSCI also referenced the incident in a daily newsletter sent the following day to all orientation participants, including first-years and Orientation staff.
“We recognize that an unexpected incident occurred tonight during the ‘Canes Take Flight program. While the program was able to continue, we understand that you may have been affected by the situation. Please note that health and safety is our top priority. If you need any additional support, the departments below are here for you and your fellow ‘Canes,” the newsletter read.
The email then provided links to the Counseling Center and Student Health Service among other university resources.