Magazine article Corrections Today

DAWN SULLIVAN POISE under Pressure

Magazine article Corrections Today

DAWN SULLIVAN POISE under Pressure

Article excerpt

It is probably a phone call anyone running a correctional facility has nightmares about. "All hell is breaking loose in the control room," shouts the person at the other end of the line, who abruptly hangs up.

On Christmas Day 1998, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colo., this was the distress call made by Tommy Martinez, second in charge of the control room, shortly before he left to find help. Dawn Sullivan, the control center's commanding officer, stayed.

At approximately 10 a.m., an 8-inch hot water main burst above the underground control center. The initial force of the water escaping the pipe, which Sullivan says sounded like a shotgun blast, collapsed part of the control center's ceiling, which thankfully, did not hit either officer. Water began filling the room and soaked the equipment, setting off alarm sirens. The volume of water leaking gradually began to collapse the ceiling, one panel at a time. "You could see the ceiling panels sag before they came down," Sullivan says, "and then we'd move."

After Martinez left, Sullivan remained to make sure precautions were taken to ensure the continued safe operation of the facility, even though her safety was more at risk every minute. When computer equipment and electrical wiring became soaked in water, the room's fire suppression system detected an electrical fire and began filling the room with halon gas, which sucks oxygen from the air.

"At the time, I was thinking, 'Well, I'm the No. 1 [officer], I guess I'd better stay in here and figure out what we should be doing,"' Sullivan says. …

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