UW police, Madison firefighters take over Ogg Hall for emergency exercises

July 6, 2007

by Dennis Chaptman

Ogg Hall, the vacant high-rise residence hall that is awaiting demolition, will be the site of emergency training exercises involving University of Wisconsin-Madison police officers and city of Madison firefighters beginning the week of Monday, July 9.

During July, police armed with training guns and non-lethal ammunition will get hands-on training involving various emergency situations in the east tower and firefighters will practice high-rise firefighting techniques in the west tower. The building is located at 716 W. Dayton St.

Fire department exercises will begin on Monday, July 9 and run through Sunday, July 15. The exercises will feature a "live burn" on Saturday, July 14 in which wooden pallets stacked in a restroom in Ogg Hall will be set ablaze and firefighters will extinguish the fire. That exercise is expected to run from 9-11:30 a.m.

During the rest of the week, officials plan to use theatrical smoke to simulate fires in the upper floors of the 13-story building and on the roof.

The availability of a high-rise venue for such exercises in Madison is rare, and authorities are looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.

UW police Sgt. Benjamin Newman says that, especially in light of April's tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, such drills help campus police hone their emergency skills.

Police, he says, will be practicing a number of different scenarios in small groups of five or fewer. The police training will take place later in the month.

"Being able to conduct training in a high-rise setting is of a tremendous value," says Newman. "Because the building is vacant, we can have unlimited movement and knock down doors, if needed. We'll be more prepared if we ever need to use these skills in an emergency."

Madison Fire Department Division Chief Ron Schwenn, who oversees training for the department, says the use of Ogg Hall is an opportunity that will pay off in increased safety for the community.

"The University of Wisconsin-Madison is extending its educational mission in a way that has great value for our firefighters and the community," Schwenn says. "It is difficult to replicate conditions in a way that allows us to experience the realities of a high-rise incident."

The Ogg Hall site is expected to be fenced off on Aug. 1 and preparations for its demolition will begin.

The 1,000-bed residence hall opened its doors in 1965, and was the last major residence hall project to open on campus until last year, when Newell J. Smith Hall opened on North Park Street.

The 425-bed Smith Hall, and the new 600-bed residence hall at Park and Dayton streets - that will retain the Ogg Hall name - were built to replace the outdated structure that has been a fixture of the campus skyline. The new Ogg Hall will open to residents next month.