Fire At The Geek Group

Geek Group

The Geek Group, an absurdly large and well stocked hackerspace in Grand Rapids, Michigan caught fire yesterday.

You may recall The Geek Group from their many over-the-top projects that include a quarter shinker, a 200,000 Watt Tesla coil, enough capacitors to kill a demi-god, and a giant robot that crushes TVs. From what TGG has shown on their website and their YouTube, they have an amazing space that could still be the home of quite a few amazing builds.

According to Geek Group head honcho [Chris], the fire was caused by an overheated electric motor. No one was at the space at the time, but the fire was hot enough to crack the exterior brick and melt porcelain insulators in their high voltage lab. To add insult to injury, this was only TGG’s second day of being open to the public.

The folks at The Geek Group are looking for volunteers for their cleanup, so if you’re around the Grand Rapids area and would like to pitch in, head on over around noon today.

118 thoughts on “Fire At The Geek Group

  1. ouch, thats more than “there was a flame and we flattened it”
    shall I suggest hackspaces come togethor and create fire protection policies?
    Would this motor be a compressor that popped an air line in the middle of the night?

    1. It was an AC Motor that ran the rotary Spark Gap for Gemini (The twin Tesla Coils) and it was run a half hour (for less than a minute) before the smoke was noticed. We are still not sure if the motor was the cause of the fire. It could have been a failure in the MMC Array. This happened around 4PM Eastern Time 1/2/14.

    2. The only fire protection policies that really matter are the policies required by any governing bodies that have jurisdiction, and the insurance carrier. As far as I know there is nothing stopping anyone from implementing policies that go beyond those that are required by the previously mentioned.

  2. Honestly, Hacker groups really need to use established company safety policies. if the building is unoccupied, EVERYTHING is turned off. Compressors, etc.. Flip the big red switch and power it down. if you need to have your project run 24/7 then your butt or someone else’s butt is there 24/7.

    The wheel does not need to be re-invented, just search online what most machine shops and other businesses do for safety.

    1. Back in the good ol’ days, shutting off every little light in the lab meant the crystal ovens were being turned off. A big no-no.

      1. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have any frequency references in their HV lab, but point well taken. You don’t want to turn off the fire alarms, for example. Oh, wait, they didn’t have any.

    2. When the fire happened, there WAS no power to anything in the room-Chris is a stickler on safety. The fire was reported 30min after the last demo in that room.
      Instead of wildly speculating about the safety protocols in use, why don’t you ask what the established protocols are, do some research on established safety protocols, and share your findings with TGG so we can help ensure that a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again. (info@thegeekgroup.org)

      1. Call it a “tragedy” all you want. It might have been one if someone had died. Looks more like a fuck-up from a group with more expensive toys than they could handle.

        1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tragedy

          Tragedy (n)
          1a : a medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great man
          1b : a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror
          1c : the literary genre of tragic dramas

          2a : a disastrous event : see calamity
          2b : see also: misfortune

          I believe this qualifies as tragedy under definition 2.

          It would have been a ‘Fuck-up’ if someone had left the machinry powered on/running while they went to the latrine, but as it had been POWERED OFF for 30m prior to anyone noticing.
          Chris doesn’t let just anyone run the dangerous machinery. If it was operated, it was operated by an authorized, competent person.

          1. Edit: the last person to run the tesla coil was Chris, and he is so anal about safety that words fail me now…

          2. “If it was operated, it was operated by an authorized, competent person.”

            … Afterwards, it caught on fire and burnt a significant portion of the building down. It was operated by a Geek Group member, and designed by a Geek Group member. Then it burst into flames and caused a serious tragedy. Am I missing something here? How can you absolve the root of the problem? It’s The Geek Group.

  3. The lab wasn’t closed at the time. There was people in the building at the time and as they’ve stated non of equipment was in use. All the gear does has full power down. I’m sure they tell us what happened in due time. There no point in guessing.

  4. I am sure they would pay more attention about safety issues after the nice little chats with their insurance company and their landlord.

    1. I hope they were insured, however difficult it is to value wierd inventions, at least the cost of the components and machinery would be nice. I also wonder how you get insurance for the sort of place that has giant robots stomping round a jungle of Tesla coils. Anything you don’t mention on the form can hurt the claim.

      1. They will have a real problem with their insurance company should it turn out they neglected normal safety procedures.

        Unfortunately I have seen hackerspaces (not TGG’s, never been there) where they were very proud that they skipped all that H&S ‘junk’. They wanted to have that anti-establishment, ghetto, elite underground setup and felt that safety was just an attempt by the establishment to hold them back and stifle their freedom.

        1. I think the only shortcoming for H&S at TGG is the building’s alarm system. Given what we know of the last tennants/owners, I’m not even sure if there’s an alarm system in it right now.

      2. Robots stomping around a jungle of Tesla Coils? They have 3 big robots. One is a non-functional lawn ornament, one is non operational, and one is in use. The one in use is bolted to the floor. No stomping there. A jungle of Tesla Coils? They have three. Gemini is a set of twin coils that operate in Tandem and the third is a tabletop coil. I don’t think that would qualify as a jungle.

        There are rigorous safety procedures taken on all the projects at the lab. Gemini is the suspected culprit and was operated a half hour before smoke was noticed. It’s main power supply is key-operated and the key is removed after every operation. The system was shut down. It’s suspected that the fire occurred because of an undetected failure in Gemini’s rotary Spark Gap or it’s MMC Array.

        Safety is The Geek Group’s #1 concern always. Even if safety procedures are strictly adhered to, things can still go horribly wrong. This was a freak accident with horrible consequences. Nothing more.

  5. Based on watching hundreds of the video blogs, they seem to take safety seriously… as much as any private company I’ve worked for at least.

    They have also had endless troubles with their HVAC from shoddy contractors. Just sayin.

    1. I havent watched a lot of their videos, but

      >they seem to take safety seriously

      like that time Cult Leader was opening up big capacitor with hammers and saws, and testing for PCB using his smell. Yep, top safety right there.

      1. You will notice that it was Chris doing the smell test, not his assistant.
        If there’s anything of dubious safety qualifications that needs doing, Chris insists that he himself do it to eliminate risk to others.

        1. You can’t be serious. Like, you’re joking, right? God I hope you’re joking. This is standard operations and protocol?

          Daniel, I suspect you’re a member of the group, right? Maybe this is all makes sense. Don’t worry, I’ll give you plenty of time to respond. I understand you may be praying to Messiah Boden at the moment.

        2. Then again there’s nothing wrong with using the sense of smell to detect if a hazard exists, you just don’t take big breath. and if something as hazardous as like high levels of H2S is suspected other precautions are taken.

          1. Please tell me you are joking.
            Hazmat level 1 awareness training says “Don’t smell stuff.”
            The smallest quantity of the wrong stuff could kill you or cause permanent damage.

        1. Try reading the explanation of that video.

          “Chris and the lab crew get a little loopy after hours of shooting video on phasing NSTs. The First Church of Tesla is born.”

          It’s a joke, you know that thing some people do for fun!! You do know what fun is don’t you? Maybe you should try unplugging from your computer once in awhile and go have some fun.

        1. I also love how in the video Jamie is given the chance to back up all his claims, LIVE on TGG radio and Chris’s personal blog, but fails to do so. In fact it seem like he can’t. It looks like for whatever reason he was asked to leave TGG and his feeling were hurt, and now almost a year later he is still lashing out at them like a two year old throwing a temper tantrum. Get over it, move on with your life.

          1. And yet both of you guys are still so offended by the thought that someone might question or criticize the great and mighty Chris! “Get over it, move on with your life?” Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

    1. This is my view of the group as well. Collectively, they’re alright, but Chris is a serious liability if you ask me.

    2. So, you’re going to be basing your half baked opinion on the ramblings of one or two frustrated individuals that may or may not have been constipated at the time of the writing? Did you even read through to the second page where Chris himself gets on and INVITES questions?

  6. The fire happened at 3:30PM, middle of the day.

    I haven’t been there in a long time, but most likely the motor in question has the monster that turns the rotary spark gap for Gemini, the twin tesla coils they’ve been known to run on two 100kVA transformers (probably where the 200,000W number came from). That motor used to have working thermal protection (I’ve seen them trip it).

    BTW, has anyone seen a project developed at The Geek Group that wasn’t directed by Chris or one of the other higher-ups?

    1. They don’t make production videos of stuff that isn’t theirs. The few things that wasn’t theirs they have had strict permission to share. Lets face it, if you were working on a project would you want to share in a manner that could make it easy to assume it was done by someone else? If you subscribe to the Captain’s Blog you can get a behind the scenes look at the goings on and you would get to see a LOT of projects that never get airtime.

  7. Why is it that every couple of years something catastrophic happens to the group that severely impacts their progress, and trivializes the hard work of many contributors? And, why does it *have* to be something that’s amplified by the group’s “quirky” management who are clearly out of their league?

    My prediction is that their insurance won’t cover this. Eerily enough, the building’s lack of a fire alarm was also made evident. They will have a salvage mission on their hands and they will beg for private donations to cover the expense. Donator’s contributions burnt up in this incident, and donators will again have to swoop in and clean up the mess.

    I have no confidence that the group will cease to have these periodic, major incidents. And, I caution everyone to consider that fact before engaging yourself, and especially participating in one of their far-too-often fundraising drives.

    I’m sure everyone is aware of my perspective by now, but regardless, it’s been published many, many times in the past that despite the majority of the members being reasonable and well wishing, the management of the group need shuffling.

    1. With great risk comes great rewards. Sometimes, accidents happens.
      This incident was not caused by poor management or shotty work, it’s suspected it was caused by an undetected failure of hardware that’s been in use for years with no incident.

  8. The leadership there is nothing more than smoke and mirrors concealing an abrasive, micromanaging, and caustic leader sitting on a space that attracts new members as quickly as it runs them off.

    The organization is tightly structured around a certain individual in such a way that he is essentially in power of a non profit that sustains his lifestyle. Living on the efforts and membership of a increasingly alienated member base.

    This being said, I would not be surprised that with a long list of wonderful makers, hackers, and geeks who hate the individual – that a fire might have been engineered to cash in.

    Still, this is a tragedy for the makers of the Grand Rapids area. Fortunately, there are several other groups in the area that don’t suffer the same brand of Facism.

    1. They have a bazillion cameras in the space, I’m sure that no one would have dared to tamper with something on such a scale.

  9. Maybe they should have invented the robot building sentry that would have said (in a nice female robot voice) “I’m detecting a significant increase in temperature in area 7a”.

    No fire detection/suppression system?

    Either they’re brave or stupid, only their insurance company knows for sure.

    1. the annunciator system you speak of IS in the works.

      Chris is on a first name basis with his insurance adjuster. He knows exactly what they require and not. Also, considering that this building was built for entirely different purposes (*WAS a YMCA*) in a time that we weren’t so litigeous, it’s no surprise that there is not suppression system (though I’m sure its on the list of things to do) or a detection system (it is being installed still)
      They run on a shoestring budget and these things cost money.

      Final point: they were publicly open for their second day when this happened, which means that an inspector had come out and verified that all the requirements that Grand Rapids has for any other publicly accessible building had been met.

        1. Okay, lets look at a serious fire system. I have experience with Simplex, so, lets see where the cost of that comes in just for detection, let alone actually piping sprinklers (I’m not sure what they’d use for the HV lab anyway, I’d think a gas or chemical system, which only drives the price up).

          Let’s start our list by what we need. It’s a big building, it needs an addressable panel. A zone system does in a pinch, BUT, given TGG’s activities, that gives far too much room for human error and it’s an older system that probably wouldn’t accommodate the size of the lab or the types of alarm needed. So, right off the bat, we’re looking towards the 4100 series.

          The trick on pricing this sort of panel is that they’re built to fit each new situation, they’re a modular platform. There’s modules and boards I know I’m not thinking of, so, we’ll start with the even shorter list I have in mind. Depending on Michigan’s firecodes and specific conditions at the lab, the panel at the bare minimum needs:
          1. Networking Expansion (this is going to be much of the panel’s cost)
          Access to addressing and managing all of the devices.
          2. IP and Phoneline access
          Networking to 911, Simplex Dispatch, and expandability to any other hardware.
          3. Remote Access
          A smaller companion panel. It’s considered a safety thing fore fire fighters, some buildings have a few, one at each major entrance to give firefighters immediate information (where is the alarm from, what kind is it, etc). TGG would likely want to try and put these in.
          4. Backup system
          The panel will need dedicated battery backup, that’s built in to it.

          Depending on Michigan’s fire codes, they may need a lot of special modules and equipment. New York firecode for example, requires vocal annunciators in certain buildings. TGG is probably going to need that if they put in a CO2 or complex fire deterrent in any of the labs. By the nature of chem labs, any area with chemicals that will react to water will need something like that.

          Let’s look at the detectors now. This is another area fire code will stipulate a lot of what they need/get. Let’s start with the basics.
          1. Smoke Detectors
          Here’s the first thing I found. I am note 100% certain, but, I believe this is just a detector head. It needs to attach to a base. This permits hot-swapping for maintenance, as these are industrial grade detectors. They do need to be taken down and worked on occasionally.
          2. Heat Detectors
          Different from smoke detectors, these respond to changes in temperature. They can be used to call for emergency services before a fire occurs or in environments where smoke would not accumulate sufficiently to setoff a regular smoke detectors. They are a necessary fallback in case smoke does not trip an alarm.
          3. CO2/Gas Detectors/Etc
          An entire field of detectors, I imagine this area will be very difficult to work out at first. The group would have these to detect other hazards that are not immediately from fire, that may lead to fire, or are otherwise hazardous.
          4. Pull Stations
          The cheapest part of the entire process. Pull stations are relatively inexpensive but they will need a fairly large number of them.
          5. Other alarm triggers
          Fire code may require an alarm connected to the building AED case and to fire exit doors. If/when TGG does electronic doors (Chris has talked about this in the blog), the fire panel will also have to connect to those fire doors.

          Now, this is just bare bones, figuring out an emergency might be present. We aren’t into suppression, wiring or any of the logistics, this is just a list that would take up 2 or 3 large piles and take a good while to assemble.

          When you add in suppression, this is gonna get really expensive. Then you put in the piping for the whole building, multiple zones/isolation. The panel gets more devices as now it gets tamper switches, flow detectors, and probably some other specialized hardware. Though, the bigger issue at hand is how to even apply fire suppression to some parts of the lab.

          Sprinkler heads are usually tripped by temperature, either melting solder or a chemical/fluid expanding to the point that it breaks a seal, causing a pressure change (tripping a valve) or releasing water directly from that point. I can’t even begin to think of how you’d put that in the HVL. There’s a fair chance thumper or gemini would take out those heads through a strike or with shrapnel. So, that system is going to be some specialized system, a CO2 or electronic dry chem or something of that nature. It gets to be very complicated.

          All this to say, the $120 was best spent on the dog. Saving money for a fire panel and a suppression system $120 at a time would frankly take longer than other means of fundraising. The list above with labor, parts, inspection, and probably a miracle would probably top $200,000. A college I once visited dropped I believe $2 million equipping 8 very small buildings with more than I’ve listed. It’s the only example I have at hand for a cost of a large scale project like that.

          As it is, TGG did the best that they could. They noticed the fire, evacuated the building, called emergency services, and at the end of the day, they are in pretty good shape. Their building is a massive mess, they have an HVL lab ready to be rebuilt with another round of projects which I truly hope brings in more members to learn, and the only thing they’ve lost is time and some small machines. The lab is STILL there. There was NO loss of life. There was an accident that honestly caused less trouble than we see in the news everyday. There was no lost building, no lost life, no cars destroyed in a wreck, and so far as I know, no one hospitalized. The firefighters went into what could’ve been a really bad situation, but, probably found a pretty ideal situation. The power was cut, they received immediate direction to the fire (better than would be given by a fire panel), the only thing TGG could’ve done better was roll out the grill and serve hotdogs for the firefighters after all was said and done.

          1. That’s a bunch of crap, a handful of 10$ smoke detectors almost certainly could have prevented this. I’m really disappointed they didn’t have proper fire detection. How can they can spend thousands of dollars on other things first?

          2. Alright, how would they prevent it?

            In that environment, that $10 alarm must:
            1. Survive electrical discharges, possibly EMP’s, etc.
            2. Survive shrapnel from Thumper
            3. Provide an alarm loud enough to be noticed
            4. Survive long enough to provide an alarm loud enough to be noticed.

            The biggest problem to overcome here is how it gets someone’s attention. The annunciator in a cheap detector is built loud enough to wake up a nearby person in bed. That annunciator would alert anyone in the room, but, I do not believe it would reach the hallway beyond. If it did, only a someone passing by would actually notice if they were in the vicinity at the time of the fire. So, it’s best chance was to survive as long as possible and continue to make noise.

            THIS is one of the big reasons why industrial facilities use alarm systems. They can sufficiently notify of a problem. In industrial settings, an alarm needs to survive for one minute to set an alarm, after that, it doesn’t matter. Every horn in the building is going to sound until it’s manually deactivated. Your cheap $10 solution would last until the fire killed it and probably not help much.

            That all, ignoring that a $10 smoke alarm is made of simple electronics and plastic, without any rugged design to it. The lab would have killed that long before it ever came to serve a purpose in an actual alarm.

          3. Dude, your argument is: “No alarm is better than any alarm”. You’re an idiot to believe that their approach, of NO ALARM, regardless of all the over-engineering you rambled on about above, is superior.

            What planet are you from? Even if they had alarms, that failed due to the issues you pointed out (Oh lord, how ever would an alarm survive the horrific shrapnel from thumper!?… oh please…) they would at least have the justifiable grounds to say: “We tried our best given our resources”. Right now, all they can honestly say is: “For fire protection, ee tried nothing and part of our building burned down”

          4. Are you trying to tell us that a smoke alarm can’t survive the HVL when they’ve filmed dozens of videos there with sensitive digital video cameras? They didn’t use film or cameras hardened against emp blasts, they used stock, readily available cameras. You can buy wireless smome alarms that trigger each other. No excuse not having an early warning system. Additionaly, they stand behind an open chain link fence for protection in the HVL, if shrapnel is as big of a danger as you make it out to be, someone would have been seriously injured by now. The geek group is nothing more than a publicly sponsored playground for Chris, who is by the way a tool in the worst sense of the word.

            Chris is an attention junkie who plays every day on someone else’s dime. It’s time for recess to end. He thinks hes 30 times cooler than he is, as whitnessed by the (former) Mohawk, e-cigg, leather jacket, and feable attempt at Batman’s utility belt.

          5. There is a fire system installed in the lab, the main control box has been talked about in the blog, it’s in NOC-1 on the wall. The panel has been there for a year. Since we are getting the system installed by a company and they are donating their time, it’s not all done yet.
            The dog (Omni) belongs to Chris, she is not geek group property, and as such no funds from TGG were used for her treatment, Chris is very open where all the money goes.

        2. ‘Dude’, would you care to provide some evidence to your claims?

          Here’s my argument. I’ll spell it out for you.

          1. The cost of a professional, engineered system for detecting fires has made it a non-option for TGG.

          2. The design of cheaper fire safety systems makes them incapable of preventing the sort of fire that occured in the HVL. They lack the needed durability and could not have given advance notice without someone already present in HVL.

          3. In the absence of fire detection hardware, TGG was able to evacuate the lab, contact emergency services, prevent the loss of life, and accurately and precisely advise emergency services of the location of the fire.

          That said:

          What could they have done better? Tell me exactly what and how. What would the costs be in man power and financial resources? How durable would the solution be? Provide evidence, design, photographic, and video, demonstrating that your solution would work. There already exists video supporting that the HVL requires a ruggedized approach to anything inside the catch which must survive for long-term, necessary use.

          If you have the answer, TGG’s address and contact information is readily available. I suggest you provide your expertise and brilliance to prevent further fire emergencies. You’ve wasted so much time commenting here where it does so little good. Why not put your solution to work. I’ve given the best solution, I don’t know about the cheap one.

          1. “You’ve wasted so much time commenting here where it does so little good. Why not put your solution to work”

            .. I was about to say the same thing to you. And, TGG *did* put *your* solution to work. Your solution of “do nothing” that is… and then their lab burnt down.

            Your argument tries to rationalize that’s “OK”. Again, give me a break.

          2. They’ve done fundraisers for just about everything else for the lab, but they don’t have one for fire alarms? That’s just inexcusable, and I’m sure the insurance company will say the same.

  10. Lets be honest with you guys right here and now. Before you go flaming Chris for his way of doing things and the way things are getting done in that building. For one, GEMINI is a giant ‘static’ producing piece of equipment YOU NERDS should know that right off. Any type of smoke detection equipment in that room will and would get scrambled at the moment that machine is put into action. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge of electronics should know this. Not only does it create static it creates RF energy its a giant ‘transmitter’.

    As for management, think of Chris as a supervisor at walmart or burger king. He has to be an asshole to get you idiots in line. He may have an unorthodox way of doing things, and when it comes to safety, hes anal, just by watching the videos he pounds safety in other peoples heads, not for liability its just he don’t wanna carry your bleeding carcass though the building.

    I dare any one of you to bring something like this together and try and do it better. Prove the interwebs wrong.

    1. Not true about the smoke detection device…Look up VESDA smoke sensors. They use pipe to sniff air samples in areas where other smoke sensors will fail. They can also be set up to sniff other thinks like hydrogen for battery rooms.

      Very expensive, but well worth it.

    2. I can’t believe your argument is, essentially, “There’s no way of detecting or preventing fire around tesla coils”.

      Are you kidding me? You must have been in charge of the fire suppression system. Looks like it all worked out to me!

    3. @you idiots

      Well, I never had to run away from the tax man because of putting something together. I have also no interest to establish myself as a cult leader, suppressing any critics. Consequently, I will not try.

  11. Paul Kidwell (one of the Gemini builders) thinks that a hot tungsten electrode from the rotary spark gap flew off and landed on the 1000 capacitor MMC array, and was smouldering unnoticed for around 30 minutes before smoke was seen, (we may never know the true cause) the safety and evacuation procedures were followed, and everyone got out safely.
    Safety is a high priority at TGG, and the fact that the building was open to the public would suggest that the inspector and insurance was happy.
    The Geek Group pride themselves on building a community for all geeks to come together and help each other to improve the world, free from bias etc.
    Negativity only shows those commenters in a bad light, i’m sure you would feel the same if your house caught on fire and people were shouting at you that you didn’t follow basic safety.
    Can’t we all just get along ?

    1. 99% of risks will be squashed by even 1 stickeler.
      I know a lot of commercial setups with no safety procedure, so the fact there was one is awesome. Most sprinkler systems are designed to delay the spread of fire while the fire department arrives, not put it out (tho they happen to put a lot of them out) sprinkler systems are expensive (even on an annual basis) and when they go off, the water damage is comprable to a fire in material damage. Nobody was hurt, this is good. I encourage EVERYONE to see if your local fire department has a fire extinguisher training program, having used an extinguisher in a non-emergency situation is almost critical if trying to put out an actual fire.
      In my experiance, even something that has the potential to start a fire (ignition source) rarely manages to find something that can sustain it (nobody keeps buckets of oily cloths in a plastic pail by the lathe, right?).
      Even those who have all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed get hit with disasters, they just get hit less often.
      No amount of money can restore the equipment and work that a place like that contains, I hope they are able to create a new facility that is better in all ways than the old.
      Is there a paypal address I can donate rebuild money to them via?

      1. The rate of property damage per reported structure fire is lower by 40-70% for most property uses when fire sprinklers are present (JR Hall 2007, “US experience with sprinklers and other automatic fire extinguishing equipment”).

  12. I am disappointed a little bit here. Once again the comments turn into a discussion mostly about one person. The Geek Group is not Fascist, it seems many people are quick to say something about a situation they’ve never witnessed for themselves. I came here to help other makers and inventors realize their dreams, we take safety extremely seriously here at The Geek Group. It only takes one slipup, or taking a situation fore granted for one to fatally injure themselves here. I can assure you, this was not insurance fraud. We have confirmed the cause of the fire and are undergoing the cleanup process. There is an army of people here right now and we’ll be back open to the public soon.

    Questionable safety policy? I think not, we had the building evacuated and secured within 2 minutes, had mains power cut for the firefighters and had a plan of action in place immediately to assist the emergency crews in doing their job. Nobodys safety was compromised at any point and the staff acted swiftly. We will be back up very quickly.

    I haven’t seen members “run off”, I moved over 1,000 miles to be apart of this and create a positive creative learning environment for everyone to work from, even though it’s not a paying gig. There are no smoke and mirrors here, I am a very candid person and that will never change. Although, there was a bit of smoke yesterday, it finally left the building, and left all the soot behind. We are not here to benefit one person, or even a small group of people. Anyone can come in the door and learn.

    A group of great people trying to make the world a better place lost a lot of progress yesterday. If you’re going to come here and be negative about it, my advice is shake the sand out of your vagina, get up, and go do something for the greater good.

    1. The fire was smouldering un-noticed for half an hour before it was noticed. What if it was producing noxious gases instead of just smouldering? That, and the vehement denial that a few $10 smoke detectors would be better than nothing points to questionable safety practice.

  13. As a former member of TGG, before they got kicked out of Kalamazoo, and before they burnt down their last building in Grand Rapids, I can’t say that safety is their priority. Chris was their priority and everybody who was a member knew it. People hung around him because he was able to accomplish cool things — for example when I was there he managed to get Old Kent Bank to donate all of their old terminals and their mainframe, plus a cash donation. He had cool stuff, but you had to play by his rules, which he convinced you was the best and safest way to go.

    I left and never came back after he almost shot me with his pistol he was playing with in the shop.

        1. Somebody told me, so it must be true!

          Good logic there, Mitch. I bet you believe everything you read on the Onion, too.

  14. I’m split on the Geek Group.
    I used to live in Kalamazoo and thought it might be some good experience volunteering at the Geek Group. This was a long time ago… maybe 7-8 years.

    I thought the idea of what the Group was proposing was an interesting one, and they did have a decent amount of equipment (although no where near what they have now). However, it seemed like things were going 150 mph without any real direction. The group seemed like they were struggling financially, they were looking for sponsors, and the hardcore volunteers (those who treated it as a full time job) looked quite worn down from a lot of hard work and living off ramen.

    Chris had this attitude that nothing was going to stop them, and anything could and would be done. They also seemed to take sponsors to donate stuff without any real need/purpose for it. Again at this time they didn’t have near enough stuff to have separated work spaces, as it appears they do now.

    Some experiences I had:

    = I was there with the first got an industrial robot. This was the event that really made me uncomfortable with the group. They were doing some initial setup or something trying to switch power sources, and Chris asked me to hold something in what appeared to be a type of outlet box. He said make sure I don’t touch what I was holding to anything and powered something on. I was extremely nervous trusting anyone, especially this half crazed stranger I barely knew to anything power related. (I had him seen him use some high power toys during my initial walk through, but never design anything. Pressing the on button didn’t prove to me he knew anything.) I was very afraid that I was going to get electrocuted, but Chris was going 150 mph. He then turned to me and said it was important to hold it or the robot would lose some internal programing if he wasn’t able to power it back on again. It ended up being fine, but I didn’t like basically being forced into holding something with no warning/explanation ahead of time, with the knowledge that if I didn’t do this I would be damaging their new expensive robot.

    = Attended a meeting where Chris thought that they were going to get a large building (I believe it was a school) donated for their use. The board that was deciding announced that they would not be giving the group the building. I believe it had something to do with them being unproven, but I could be very mistaken on that.

    Anyway, during my very short time, I decided it wasn’t worth the 30 min drive to do random tasks for a group that I wasn’t sure would ever do anything. Again, I do support the end goal, but I wanted to share my story. I also wanted to provide another viewpoint. Now I do support the end goal of the geek group, I just think it was likely too raw and early when I was there.

  15. Having been involved in a similar incident in the private sector, I know that the very first thing that should have happened was to appoint an independent review board. Of people that had no connection with the incident. As soon as Chris stated that no one could go into the area except him and his friend, I knew there would be no way to determine If the accident was because of Chris’s negligence or incompetence.

    Just saying.

    1. Watching a recent blog, it seems that a bolt worked loose on the rotary spark gap, and a hot electrode was thrown onto the MMC (capacitor bank), it went unnoticed for a while.
      All safety procedures were followed to the letter, no one was hurt, if you want to call that incompetence, then fine.
      Never speculate what the cause was, find out the facts.

      1. Exactly what you are doing is speculating. Exactly what I did was describing how the cause could be determined without bias.

        1. so. because he wanted no one else to be in danger by going into the room that has collapsing walls and roof, that means hes incompetent …. yeah your sooo biased , the figured out the issues in the blog

    1. i already posted that lol, there is even another post where they are doing another radio show with jamie and chris still allows him to come and work in the lab. so it shows that even after a dispute he doesn’t kick em out like a bunch of the flamers keep suggesting

  16. I see this has turned into an epic flame war, this place isn’t going away, Chris isn’t going away, if he was “evading tax the tax man” he would be in JAIL RIGHT NOW and the building closed. I highly doubt that, as for the gun in the face are you sure it wasn’t his finger pointed at you?
    I think yes Chris rubs everyone the wrong way, the video Sparky posted Chris himself SAID hes an asshole and he pisses people off I think its safe to say EVERYONE HERE pisses someone off in their life. An it don’t matter who. There was more smoke damage to that room then structure, he kept people OUT of that whole part of the lab due to SAFETY issues in case there was a building collapse. Most of you people are stupid, and not thinking clearly. You are just piling in on a flame war with one guy with a goal and in this goal had a setback. As for blame it was a mechanical failure of Gemini nuff said Mr Kidwell knows this machine inside and out.
    An honestly who could predict a bolt coming loose causing hot shards of metal to fly about landing on PLASTIC caps would cause a fire. I know I couldn’t. Use your heads.

    Now enter a troll war from this comment because after all ” were all adults here”.

    1. Many of the past and present Geek Group members are wonderful people with various talents and knowledge. That they have a very serious problem with Chris running it, does not warrant the response ” most of you are stupid. ” That just demonstrates blind loyalty. Those who are flaming – probably have a damned good reason to. Perhaps your loyalties are to Chris, and NOT to the Maker community.

      At some point, the community should weigh in on whether THAT kind of leadership is the way the group should be represented and run, or if it should manage itself without his influence. Unfortunately, that will never happen – because “Chris isn’t going away” is the precise problem the community is facing. If a maker space is anything, it is a community ( a unified body of individuals ) – and people don’t generally unite under someone who incites this much “flaming”. The flaming is the symptom of the disease.

  17. I’ve been a member of the group in one shape or form since 1999. So I think I have a decent amount of experience where it concerns Chris and The Geek Group. That said this whole discussion shows the ignorance of a lot of the people posting about what should be an opportunity for fellow geeks and makers to come together as a community. Chris is not The Geek Group. It was and is his vision. The Geek Group works because of his drive and determination, but Chris could walk out tomorrow and the group would continue on in his absence. You don’t like Chris, fine, that is your right, you don’t think they are following proper safety protocols, research them and do something to implement them. The Geek GROUP by name and definition is a collective operation with an international following and support.

    The fire, while unfortunate, was a statistical reality. Any time the “envelop” is being pushed and research is being done on the level The Geek Group is, accidents are inevitable. The building was powered down and evacuated in under 2 minutes, that is amazing. They deserve our applause for that alone. If you haven’t been there you cannot fully comprehend the challenges of that building. It took me several visits lasting sometimes hours at a time before I learned the layout of the building. It was a YMCA, and an OLD YMCA at that. It was never intended to be a research and development center. They COULD NOT open to the public without proper inspection and approval from the city. So if safety protocols weren’t followed, it is only because they don’t exist in the first place (as a requirement to be open to the public).

    Frankly those that have a negative opinion are fully intended to it and I thank them for staying away. The Group cannot continue to move forward and do what they do with so much negativity. It’s the largest make-space in the United States, someone is going to have to be the micromanaging a-hole that pisses everyone off. Chris may play this role but it is not who he is, how else could he convince so many large companies to make such large contributions. Rust-Oleum has stepped up and already said they will provide, as a donation, any and all products they make that will aide in the clean-up of the fire.

    I’m rambling and bordering on ranting so I will conclude this by saying that the real tragedy in all this is the close mindedness of those that are willing to pass judgement while sitting at their computer. If you don’t like something, don’t bitch about it, get involved and change it; otherwise keep your trap shut and let those that are getting involved do their jobs.

    p.s. I’m not posting anonymously, I’m not going to hide behind the veil of the internet. I am SGT (RET) Pahman, Jesse C. United States Army and the above are my opinion. If you have a problem with them, address your objections to me.

    1. Call it what you want but vaporizing random objects for your own amusement is not “research”, it’s playing, plain and simple.

      I find Chris and Mr Kidwell’s explanation of what likely happened to be real thin. In the video showing the spark gap, Chris discusses with Mr Kidwell large chunks broken from the electrode mount. If the impact from the loose electrode was as forceful as expressed, I suspect Chris would have heard it and known something was amiss. Mr Kidwell said he couldn’t find any evidence of an electrode breaking off but still thinks there was an impact. More likely, the the two dissimilar metals expanded at different rates and broke the mount. Also, there is no soot in the fractures suggesting the mounts broke after the fire, possibly after being doused with water from the firemen. The bent electrode can be explained by extreme heat weakening the metal and upon falling, it hit the ground and bent.

      All that said, I support the idea of the Geek group and what they’re trying to accomplish. Chris may be a jerk (which is his problem to deal with, not mine), but, in my experience, you can be a successful leader without barking at people. Good managers/leaders can motivate without resorting to insults and yelling.

      Watching a video posted above, Chris states he makes loads of money through side work which he was completely unwilling to go into detail about. Most of the time, that means you have something to hide.

      1. So, all the notable scientists of times gone by were not doing research ?
        Edison electrocuted an elephant to prove a point, surgeons dismembered bodies, i could go on.
        If you ever watch Gemini running, it makes a lot of noise, there are contactors that clunk in and out, as an electrician for over 30 years, his explanation made perfect sense, i was almost preempting what Paul was going to say, i can almost have an idea of the actual impacts, electrode came loose, knocked one of the electrodes and pushed it back, loose electrode bounced back to stick out of other side of disc and hit the opposite electrode 180 degrees later, that’s my theory alone.
        there would be little soot because they would have cleaned it off before taking it to a relatively clean area, no point spreading more of it around.
        Chris has been very open about money he gets with the members, his sideline is his own personal money to live on.

        1. Edison electrocuted an elephant for the shock value (no pun intended) in a desperate attempt to thwart Tesla.

          You’re right, that was not research either.

      2. Or the soot that was on the breake was Washed off by the firepersons hose, the spar gap makes a right old npoise when running Chris wouldn’t of heard anything and as other parts of the electrodes where still there the coil would operate. Tbh most the evidence of what actually happened has been destroyed. So we’ll never really know what happened.

      3. What’s wrong with playing? A load of stuff has been found by people just playing and sometimes quite frankly its just good fun. I go out climbing on weekend, I’m not a good climber, I’m not route setting or finding new things, I’m just playing becua its fun.

      4. re·search
        ˈrēˌsərCH,riˈsərCH/
        noun
        1. the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.

        verb
        1. investigate systematically.

      5. Much as I agree he (Chris) is a bit of a dick.

        Can I infer that since you didn’t publish your full accounts for the past five years inside your comment that you also have something to hide etc?

        people are allowed to have private lives, private businesses etc. and not wanting to air all your business on the internet is a perfectly natural thing!

    2. >Chris is not The Geek Group.
      He does seem like a bit of a dick though, I wrote a longer piece, but to be honest, I don’t know him as anything more than some guy from the internet who acts like a dick on a video posted above.
      If that’s the real him, then I feel kind of sorry for him. if it’s a bit of a caricature, then I suspect it does more harm than good in driving people away. you said that the group would continue without him, I suspect that it would, I also suspect that it may actually thrive more without such a controversial person at the helm so to speak.

      If the video posted above is anything to go by, (when he starts asking have you ever worked in,x or y or z) then he’s a jack of all trades, but master of none. which (to my mind at least) makes him unfit to micromanage every area and every project. -would be better if he positioned himself as a CEO, rather than CTO and had technical people as a team that could micromanage areas.

      >The fire, while unfortunate, was a statistical reality.

      This is the same as the argument above, there are a load of people saying “where was the fire detection systems?” and everyone in this group seems to be saying. We don’t need fire detection, we don’t want fire detection. and a fire was bound to happen anyway. You seem to look upon it as a statistical certainty that every building is bound to be destroyed one day (nothing lasts forever), whilst I agree you shouldn’t get all king Cnut* about it, some preventative, or detection system is better than nothing.
      *I can spell, King Cnut is an actual thing, if you don’t understand then google it.

      Point here is, maybe a room with high voltage discharge can require some extra special fire systems, but a smoke alarm in the corridor outside the room would have led to the fire being detected earlier. To that end, we’re talking about “the largest maker space in the United states” surely it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to create your own custom fire detection systems?

      Nobody is saying that a few bucks spent on a smoke alarm would have the building lasting to the end of days. What a lot of people are saying is that for not spending those few dollars, the fire was allowed to spread more, people were put in danger more, and more damage was done. a lot more cost than those few dollars have been wasted.
      If there isn’t the money to spend on an off the shelf system, then what can be done with readily available parts to create such a system.

      >The building was powered down and evacuated in under 2 minutes, that is amazing. They deserve our applause for that alone.

      Whilst that may be true, I do wonder how thorough the evacuation was? I mean do you have designated fire people (the volunteered last out) who have a register of all the people in the building (count them in and count them out) and make sure that there is not someone sitting in a corner somewhere with headphones about to get burned alive as they don’t hear the commotion?
      there is a lot of speculation here, but I’m guessing that with no real fire detection systems, this evacuation in less than two minutes was more a stroke of luck than a result of planning and exercise?

      > I am SGT (RET)
      Then you should understand the importance of preparation and planning, something that outwardly doesn’t appear to have happened here.

  18. It looks to me like Chris uses this “geek group” for his personal gain. Someone said he was a “stickler on safety” but for anyone that has watched any of their videos, this just isn’t the case. Until very recently, it was rare to see them wearing safety glasses. I never see them wearing safety harnesses while up in lifts. They’re constantly breaking equipment that is donated to them by stupid acts (ie: Boden driving the news van in while the door was down, breaking off the camera…. Letting someone borrow their box truck and completely destroying it… the list goes on and on). Talk to someone who has worked with Chris in the past. I bet you wont hear much good about him! Why do people keep sending him money?

  19. I don’t want to argue with people for the sake of it. I’m going to make my point and leave it there.

    Regardless of your view of members / staff of The Geek Group, the machinery is operated to a level of caution which has been deemed appropriate by the local authorities, insurance companies, product manufacturers and the group itself. Just like in any professional environment, accidents do happen – it’s not unheard of.

    Just because it’s easy to sit back and blame the group / specific members for their practice or attitude, doesn’t mean you should. If you work in the industry and have some constructive feedback or knowledge that you’d like to share, I’m sure the guys would be more than happy to hear from you.

    Sure. Chris is a bit of a dick – he admits it, I’m sure members of staff probably think so too, but he gets things done. He shares his passion for technology and learning with others, giving them the chance to be a part of projects which would be otherwise out of the question. The majority of leaders / innovators are exactly the same.

    In part, I’m just disappointed by the ‘closed minded’ attitude of some of the commenters in this thread. Some people, on the other hand, have made some valid points and I’m sure will be reviewed.

  20. Hackerspaces are places to take risks, experiment and do things out of the ordinary. That is their reason for existence and what makes them great places. In a good hackerspace you can try things that other people don’t think are possible or possibly even rational. They are places where ideas fly around and crazy things happen. The downside of that of that is that once in awhile something horrible will happen.

    It sounds like they had very reasonable safety policies and they had something go wrong when they were doing what they are supposed to do in a hackerspace — hacking. This is the point where all the safety nutjobs jump on the bandwagon and try to regulate free spirit out of existence. They will start pointing fingers and placing blame. It makes them happy and powerful to do this, but in reality they are small, bitter people who just want to ruin the game because they aren’t able to have fun. Do not let them do this!!!!!

    Safety policies are good things and should be in place and followed as long as the policies DO NOT ruin the spirit of what a hackerspace is. These policies should not prevent people from taking risks, that is what a hackerspace is for. They should help to prevent needless risks and reduce boneheaded destruction.

    The reality of this situation is that they lost some equipment and a landlord and insurance carrier are probably pissed. They will recover and the others will move on. I certainly expect new and great thing out of them in the future.

    Innovation and great ideas comes from taking risks, not from constantly playing it safe.

    1. It’d be helpful if the Geek group could be fully honest and open about exactly what their safety policies were, and how they were enforced etc…

      the reason I say this is (as I’ve said in these comments before) a few years ago a local makerspace was sharing space with a local business, one of the rules was “no soldering irons” as they were deemed a fire risk.

      with everyone bleating on about how this was the safest maker group, and strict safety standards were always enforced etc it will only work to scare building owners of other maker spaces meaning that less activities can be permitted inside these spaces.

      1. Gemini (large 2 tower bipolar Tesla coil) is run routinely every Saturday for public tour groups, and many times during the week for potential sponsors, the part in question is basically a motor with a disc that has electrodes to create a spark gap.
        Gemini was built many years ago, so has been run hundreds of times without incident.
        It would be like turning on a piece of equipment in your house regularly without problems, then one day it decides it’s going to break down destructively.
        How many house fires are caused by faulty well manufactured equipment.
        And for the record, this is the first fire that the Geek Group have had (from something they built) in their entire existence (over 10 years).

      2. At this time I think The Geek Group should be focused on cleanup and getting back on their feet. They have more important things to focus on than dealing with than a bunch of people yelling criticisms over the internet. I expect they are looking closely at what happened and will make some decisions about their own policies.

        It would be nice if they decided to share what they have learned from this so the whole community could learn and improve, but I don’t feel that they owe us anything. We are not their landlord, insurance company, safety inspector or even members of their group.

        The arrogance of some of the people pointing fingers and placing blame here is amazing. They did not create the hackerspace, aren’t members and have no real idea of the policies in place or even details of what happened, but they feel like they can judge The Geek Group from across the internet, What amazing jerks.

        1. I’m not judging anybody…

          what I’m saying is that some maker spaces are having a tough enough job starting up already where landlords are getting overzealous and over protective of what’s happening in their buildings.

          There are people in these comments saying that there is no fire detection, no fire suppression, talks of things getting loose (is that just down to poor maintenance? or expected behaviour? random fluke?) talking about things shearing off (metal breaking) supposedly whilst people are in the room (as the machine was in use when the part sheared off?), then red hot shards on tungsten flying un-noticed into things that apparently don’t like holding them and catch fire.

          (as I understand the explanations, something got loose/bent and sheared off whilst the machine was in use, and was flung onto a cap bank?) I’m assuming for something to have sheared that the machine must have been in use, and therefore must have had someone who should have seen this happen, who, when the machine broke just turned it off and went to a different room?)

          I’m not criticising, I’m not expecting, and I’m not demanding.

          just suggesting that in the future (certainly not right now -as yes there are more pressing issues) it might be nice to see this unfortunate event become a cautionary tale, with a real analysis of what went wrong, what’s been done to prevent it from happening again and what others may do in their spaces to stop stuff like this happening at all.

          after all if you can’t salvage the equipment to show and teach others, you may as well take the experience to show and teach others.

          (that’s a suggestion, not a demand, not a criticism, and if it doesn’t happen I’m hardly likely to loose any sleep over it.)

          1. The particular piece of equipment in question (rotary spark gap) was in a back alcove with a welding screen in front of it to prevent the sparks from blinding people, alongside the spark gap was the 1000 capacitor array, by its nature there are white hot sparks from the gap, there’s a lot of noise, so nothing looked or sounded out of place compared to the hundreds of times it has run before.
            The machine was turned off at the end of the 10 second demo, and that was that
            Unfortunately this time a piece of hot tungsten from the gap electrode had landed on the capacitor bank and smouldered and cause the fire.

          2. so what’s the lesson?

            Better maintenance is required? (ensure that all screws are tight)
            Post use inspections required?
            Hiding stuff behind an opaque curtain during use – so you can’t see when things go wrong is bad?

            Or is this just an unfortunate event with no lessons to be learned?

            (I’ve just watched the video linked in the update post so understand that the spark gap is in it’s own little cubby hole at the back of the main room. if only that room burned then that’s pretty fortunate.)

            also, – clearly the answer to soot everywhere is a boat load of black paint, will make for better shows from the tesla coils anyway!

          3. @Dan there were 2 thoughts for improvement, If Gemini is rebuilt with a spark gap, it will be in a fireproof and strong box, but there are thoughts of rebuilding as a solid state coil that will also play music.
            Yes, basically it was only the stuff in that small room that burned, but also the welding curtain that was across the opening, it was mainly the curtain that caused all the soot.

  21. Incase you missed it, king boden has released a video calling all hackaday users c**ts, “gutless little chicken sh*t f**ks”, among other nice things. He tries to explain why they dont have a recording from their favorite room with their massive camera system. They’re still getting setup. It’s not like they’ve been in that building for 2 years or anything. He goes on to pretend that they’ve always made safety their number one priority. hopefully they will get their next big accident on video and chris doesn’t hurt anyone else.

  22. Everyone should take a peak at http://hackaday.com/2011/07/27/hackaday-comment-policy-were-cleaning-up/ in particular “From this point moving forward, Hackaday comments will be civil. If you are posting an empty in-joke (“where’s the Arduino?”), a declaration of “not a hack”, a racist, sexist, completely off topic, platform-hating, or personally insulting comment, your post will be deleted. This will be at the discretion of whichever Hackaday staff member happens to see your comment first.” – At least 5 posts in this thread violate this policy.

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