Winders: Cheers to a university’s ‘hero’ of the day

Paul Mayne // Western News

After spending most of his journalism career in The States, most recently as executive editor of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Winders joined Western’s Masters in Environment and Sustainability program in 2009, and then the Western News as its editor in 2010.

You gotta love a story about somebody who made the right move.

On Monday, Patrick Hill, a soft-spoken PhD student in Geology and Planetary Sciences, who wants to discover the origins of the Moon, was thrust centre stage into a real-life, two-hour emergency scenario on campus.

As Hill worked in a Western Science Centre ground floor laboratory, a rogue grain of quartz shot up, compromised its container and released into the lab a small amount of bromine-pentafluoride, a nasty little number that was once tested as rocket fuel. When efforts to neutralize the agent were unsuccessful, Hill made the call to summon help.

Police and emergency crews responded. The building was evacuated. Hill even used his expertise to help neutralize the threat, in tandem with Hazmat teams from the city and university. Nobody was injured.

“Without him, this would have been far more difficult,” said Tony Hammoud, Western Biosafety Officer.



When I spoke with Hill this week, he was filling out his university incident report.

“It shouldn’t have happened, and we’re taking steps to make sure it doesn’t again,” he said. “But, we followed procedure, and, fortunately, nobody was hurt and it was contained. It is nice to have a positive outcome.”

Accidents will happen – what we hope is to have a well-trained workforce in place to respond.

Hill credited his ability to navigate the entire incident to his extensive Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems (WHMIS) training, in association with laboratory and research-specific training through his faculty and department. (OK, promise, that’ll be the last time I roll my eyes about completing that requirement.)

His friends and colleagues have no qualms about calling him a “hero.” They are over the moon for this young scholar who studies it, even sharing an evening out to toast Hill’s quick thinking across social media Monday night.

Hammoud made a wonderful point to me Tuesday afternoon. As a university, we spent a lot of time, money and energy to practice for every possible scenario. That makes us better when an incident happens. Yet, the biggest factor is one we cannot prepare for in advance – the human element.

None of us can know how we would handle similar situations. But for Patrick Hill, a graduate student still preparing to take his comprehensive exams, let’s consider at least this test passed with flying colours.