Dorm blaze causes evacuation

Lindsay Shoff

Severe smoke conditions rendered 120 University students homeless when a fire broke out last Thursday night, Feb. 5 in McGuire Hall.

The fire started at about 7:30 p.m. when a male student left an item of clothing on a lamp unattended in his second floor room. The smoke alarm immediately went off, and Public Safety and the fire department were both dispatched.

Before the fire department arrived, several Public Safety officers were sent to McGuire where they put out the initial blaze with nearby fire extinguishers.

Smoke conditions continued to persist, and the building was determined unsafe to inhabit for the residents of McGuire Hall, both freshmen and sophomores.

Tom DeMarco, head of Residence Life, determined the building was unsafe. “The quality of the air, the smoke in the building was pervasive,” DeMarco said. “We didn’t want to let people back in the way the air quality was.”

Residents were then told to report to the second floor of Good Counsel Hall, where resident assistants took a headcount.

Residence Life provided students with vacancies on campus if they needed a place to stay, but all 120 residents found a home for the night with their friends elsewhere on campus.

“Though the fire was scary, it was a real inconvenience,” sophomore Erica Colon said. “We weren’t allowed into the building until the next day and I didn’t have anything with me.”

Facilities management and custodial services then began cleaning the room and ventilating the hallways with industrial sized fans.

Custodial services removed all items from the room and ran exhaust fans throughout the night, though many of the student’s personal belongings were already ruined.

Predominantly the second and third floors sustained smoke damage, though DeMarco and Jeffery Horton, head of Public Safety, noted the smell throughout the entire building. “As soon as you walked in [to the first floor] you could smell smoke,” DeMarco said.

Bob Morro, head of facilities, said there was no long term damage to any of the floors, though the room in which the fire took place is still uninhabitable.

The ceiling has to be removed and replaced and the room will be ready for occupancy in roughly a few weeks.

“The smell will linger for some time,” Morro noted. “It takes time to dissipate.”

After the residents’ overnight displacement, the building was deemed suitable to re-enter at 6 a.m. by Residence Life and Facilities Management.

“I’m just happy everyone’s safe,” noted DeMarco. “I was concerned with getting everyone out as soon as possible, but safely.”

DeMarco, together with Horton, Morro and Erika Allen Lynch of environmental health and safety held a meeting as part of the situation’s debriefing process.

After any emergency situation, respective members meet to critique their actions.

“We were very pleased with the students’ cooperation and Public Safety was very fast,” said Lynch.

However, Lynch adds that there are several things students can do in a future similar event.

She urges students not to park in the fire lane, not to use candles and not to leave towels over smoke detectors.

Students should also avoid leaving their doors propped open or blocking emergency exits.

In addition, Lynch stressed responding to all fire alarms. In this case, many McGuire residents thought the real alarm was a prank and did not immediately evacuate.

Although the fire could have been prevented, the students’ response helped ensure their safety.

“I’m confident that we did a good job,” said DeMarco. He added, “We need to ask ourselves, ‘Can we learn from it?'”