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Transformer at glitch UW-RF campus, sends several to hospital; Chiefs head downtown for breakfast

A transformer serving much of the UW-River Falls campus failed late Friday afternoon prompting a chain of events that sent people to the hospital for exposure to toxic fumes and left campus staff scrambling to minimize discomfort for the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

River Falls Municipal Utilities brought in a replacement transformer from Beloit, Wis.. Full power was restored about 3 pm., Saturday -- more than 24 hours after the initial outage.

Although the Chiefs team and staff were out of town scrimmaging the Minnesota Vikings at Mankato, they returned to River Falls about midnight to find their dorm rooms dark, air-conditioning out of service and food services closed.

About 4:20 p.m. Friday, River Falls Ambulance and fire personnel were summoned to a possible hazardous materials situation in the Davee Library basement, an area which houses battery-backup units for the campus computer servers.

The earlier outage prompted computer servers to shift to battery power. Since all air-handling equipment had failed, hydrogen sulfide gas accumulated near the battery units. Once it was discovered, the building was evacuated,according to a statement issued Monday by Mary Halada, UW-RF vice-chancellor of administration and finance.

At least four people were taken to River Falls Area Hospital for evaluation, where they were treated and released. One woman suffered more serious eye irritation prompting care from a specialist but she was reported to be doing well on Monday, Halada said.

Fire crews ventilated the building and were on-scene into the evening.

Because battery power was limited, the entire campus computer network was shut down. Campus IT staff worked throughout the weekend to restore the network and restart some 150 servers. Halada said most IT staffers were still "running on adrenalin" Monday after putting 20 to 30 hours but computers and e-mail were functioning again.

Various departments were still measuring the damage Monday. Halada said some food items at Rodli and the Falcon Foods store in the Ag-Science building would be discarded.

Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards and his staff have made a habit of adapting to situations beyond their control during the team's first week in River Falls, according to comments posted by writer Josh Looney on the Chiefs website.

Whether it's been record high temperatures, torrential downpours or lack of electricity, the club has been able to overcome adversity and go about their business in a normal fashion.

Friday's blackout forced Chiefs players and staff to shower in un-lit restrooms and find off-campus meals on their own. Computers were rendered useless and the team's video staff was unable to upload film from the Chiefs/Vikings practice.

Halada said she knew of the outage before leaving to follow the team to Mankato Friday afternoon and kept in-touch with campus personnel all the time. Stopping off at a hotel for the night with 155 players and staff really wasn't an option. "I told the bus drivers to go slow," Halada joked, adding that the Chiefs "were real troopers about it."

Edwards and his troops continued on with their Saturday meeting schedule. Family Fun Night went on as scheduled and was held without any delays or disruptions. The lights at Ramer Field run on a different power feeder than the rest of campus and were unaffected by the blackout. Power stayed on at Knowles Center and Hunt Arena as well.

Edwards has said throughout training camp that he believes inconvenience builds team character and makes the entire unit tougher and stronger.

"Fantastic," Edwards said of the blackout. "It was really fantastic last night when I checked beds, because I checked beds last night at 12 o'clock. Some of the guys were standing outside and it was hot. I told them the story when I was growing up I didn't have air conditioning, so guess what? Go to bed. You're not going anywhere. It's tough but that's what we've got to do. I thought our players handled it very, very well."

The outage left Chiefs players more like tourists than businessmen. Since meals couldn't be cooked at Rodli Commons, they wandered into town in search of breakfast on Saturday, according to the Kansas City Star.

Players Eddie Kennison and Trent Green shared a table at Perkins near one occupied by Ryan Sims and Jared Allen.

At the South Fork Cafe, where Edwards and some assistants dined, the head coach reportedly paid the bill and stunned his waitress by leaving a $100 tip.

"She saw that and she was shaking in her boots," Edwards told the Star. "The poor girl didn't know what do with herself."

Halada and Chancellor Don Betz expressed gratitude to UW-RF staff, security and City of River Falls Municipal Utility employees for their hard work in restoring normalcy to campus. She said their "dedication, perseverance, long hours and great teamwork is impressive," adding in note to faculty and staff that "your patience will be appreciated as we continue to work to recover from this significant event."