- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The U.S. Capitol was evacuated for 40 minutes yesterday afternoon after smoke from an overheated motor in the ventilation system was detected on the fourth floor of the building's House side.
The smoke came from room H-419, near the offices of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Pam Green said. Congressional staffers who smelled the smoke pulled a fire alarm.
At 2:58 p.m., the fire marshal responded to the call and determined that the building should be evacuated. D.C. firefighters and U.S. Capitol Police directed members of Congress, their staffs and others to the best evacuation routes.
"Things went very smoothly," said D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter. "It was a seamless evacuation, handled by the D.C. fire department and U.S. Capitol Police."
Mr. Etter said no flames were visible, but that sparks touched off oil used in the motor, causing a fair bit of smoke. Firefighters cooled the motor with a chemical extinguisher and used industrial fans to air out the Capitol's upper floors.
They were packing up to leave in less than an hour with the building reopened, Mr. Etter said. No one was hurt.
Although the scene was calm, the initial alarm frightened some people, because of heightened security concerns since September 11. "My heart was pounding pretty hard," said Virginia Sanders, 54, from Hot Springs, Ark., who was on a tour of the Capitol with her family.
Her daughter, Paula Broadbent, 32, said she had been thinking about September 11 for a week before coming to Washington.
"My first thought was, 'How do you get out of here?'" Mrs. Broadbent said.
"It was kinda scary," said Lashawnda Smith, a staff worker on the Senate side of the building. "I was ready to go home, but I turned around and came back in."
A report last year found fire safety in congressional buildings, including the Capitol, to be "severely deficient."
In September, the Office of Compliance issued six citations to the architect of the Capitol for failing to correct the fire-safety violations, which included the use of unauthorized and unsafe electrical equipment and wiring methods.
The citations also were issued for a lack of inspection and maintenance by the office of the architect.
One official estimated the lightning-protection systems at the Capitol power plant probably hadn't been inspected once during the 75 years they have been in existence.

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