Small fire in Ziv Quad leaves students stranded
When the fire alarm went off in Ziv 129 last Tuesday at about 4:15 a.m., Anna Bessendorf's '15 first thought was, "Oh, it's probably something electrical. I don't actually have to leave." However, the alarm was triggered by a small fire, which Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan confirmed in an email to the Justice was caused by a lamp in a room fell over igniting some papers on the floor.
The fire left one student injured. The student was transported to Newton-Wellesley Hospital for possible smoke inhalation, but has since returned to campus, according to Callahan.
According to Callahan, the fire was contained. However, the fire alarm was activated and alerted occupants. All occupants were evacuated and were allowed to return once the fire was extinguished and the area was deemed safe, Callahan wrote.
When asked whether there were reports of students who remained in the dormitory despite the early-morning fire alarm, Callahan wrote that officers do their "best to evacuate a building and they rescued the student from the room."
A lamp, several books and a rug were damaged in the fire. "They did a good job confining it and keep it in that area," Waltham Fire Lt. Scott Perry said to the Waltham Patch in a Jan. 21 article.
Bessendorf, the Class of 2015 senator, raised concerns at Sunday's Senate meeting regarding fire safety procedures and alarms in specific buildings on campus. She said she fears that many students have formed the same attitude, which she said in an interview with the Justice is "kind of a pervasive attitude on campus to not take fire alarms seriously because there have been so many glitchy buildings."
Bessendorf said she lived in the Village last year, and recalled that the alarm would go off "basically once a week if not more frequently.
"There were a couple of incidents at the end of the semester last year when it went off three times in one night during finals: once at midnight, once at 2 a.m., once at 4 a.m." Bessendorf said. "By the time it went off at 4 a.m., I didn't get out of bed. The cop came around and said, you know, 'It's fine. It's an electrical problem. You don't have to actually leave the building.'"
Despite past issues, Bessendorf said that she has not encountered a fire alarm in her Ziv Quad building yet this year, and admitted that students should know that when they hear a fire alarm, the should leave the building.
When asked if any students remained in the building despite the fire alarm sounding, Callahan wrote, "When an alarm sounds all students should leave for their own safety."
Manager of Environmental Health and Safety Andrew Finn wrote in an email to the Justice that Ziv 129 has both "fire detection," or smoke detectors, and "fire suppression protection," or sprinklers.
Bessendorf said that knowing what buildings are constructed of, whether or not that material is fireproof, when fire alarms are checked and what issues exists with the current fire alarms will help, in addition to ensuring that students understand how to use available fire safety equipment and know where it can be found. Bessendorf said that she believes having all of this information is pertinent "so we could have more information as to what would be the best strategy for dealing with fires."
Part of the issue that Bessendorf had with the process was that students waited several minutes before anyone knew what had occurred in the building. "I think that there should be a better contingency plan for what happens after we leave the building," she said. "[A]ll the residents of the building were standing outside for a good three, four, even five minutes without knowing if there was a fire, where to go, what to do. ... There should be more structure as to what happens once we leave the building: better communication, systems in place as to returning to the building."
In addition, according to Bessendorf, students were unable to return into the building and had nowhere to go for over an hour. "We were standing outside for a good five minutes before people started to think about relocating. People started to take refuge in other Ziv buildings, in the lobbies, and then once it became clear that this was a real fire and if we were going to be out of the building for longer than 10 minutes, people started to go into the Ridgewood [Quad] lobbies," she said.
According to Callahan, when an alarm is received, the police respond and must go through a series of procedures before allowing students to return to the building. The officers determine the origin of the fire alarm. "[I]n the event that the officers determine that the incident is due to burnt food or a non life threatening situation, information will be provided to building occupants relative to re-entering a building," Callahan wrote.
Officers work with community development coordinators and community advisors to provide communication and updates. However, when the fire department is called and arrives, "no re-entry into a building may be initiated until the Fire Department Deputy Chief determines the safety of the facility in question," Callahan wrote.
Joseph Delisle of the University's Facilities Administration was unable to be reached for comment by press time.