Foster Fire Raises Facilities Response Concerns

On Tuesday, October 4, at approximately 8 PM, Harper Egginton ‘25 left their dorm room in Foster to visit a friend over in Scholz. Less than five minutes later, the fire alarm blared in both buildings, sending everyone out to the Great Lawn. Egginton went back inside, finding the hallway filled with smoke and fire extinguisher exhaust. By then they knew the fire had been in their room. 

Egginton spoke with the Quest about the incident and the response from Reed’s relevant departments, namely Facilities Services, the CSOs, and Student Life. Egginton admitted that the cause of the fire was an accident on their part. They believed they had completely extinguished a burning candle that was set on their dresser, but they had not. The fire started after they had left their room, but Eggington told the Quest that they believed the still-hot wick may have broken off and landed on a tablecloth that covered the dresser, which promptly caught fire. While Egginton was in Scholz,  three of their floormates noticed the smoke (the hallway smoke detector also went off) and put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. Thankfully, Egginton’s room was unlocked, so their floormates could enter, but the smoke detector inside Egginton’s room did not go off, and neither did the sprinkler.

Roughly 15 minutes after the fire alarm sounded, the fire department arrived to assess the damage. The firefighters spoke with Egginton briefly, instructing them to help document the affected possessions within the room, as well as retrieving must-have items, as Egginton was not going to be able to use the room for several days. Firefighters also spoke with Egginton’s HA, as well as two newly-hired CSOs, who arrived at the scene well after the fire department, and, according to Egginton, did not provide any useful instructions.

Facilities provided Egginton with a room for the night, but allegedly instructions were otherwise slow to arrive, or simply nonexistent. The CSOs who arrived at the scene requested Egginton’s phone number, explaining that they were to receive a call with further instructions later on. This was not the case, though, as they were never called back. The following day, Egginton went back to their room to retrieve more belongings. The dresser had to be disposed of, as well as the other items damaged by the flames themselves. Facilities had entered the room the night before to conduct some preliminary cleaning, and to take much of Egginton’s possession to be cleaned. They were told to retrieve their belongings later, the following day. Egginton visited the warehouse, where they were instructed to retrieve their belongings, but no one arrived, forcing them to go to 28 West for assistance, where several Student Life employees had to be contacted in order for many of Egginton’s possessions to be returned. Facilities also had left boxes outside Egginton’s door, but did not provide instructions for what to do with them. Egginton was later told that they were supposed to use the boxes to move their belongings, despite the fact that Facilities had already taken many of their belongings away. 

Egginton also told the Quest that Facilities did not clean out their room to the extent that they were told to expect. Egginton claimed that there was a hole in the wall that had been there indefinitely, that had been filled, but otherwise the cleaning job was haphazard and rushed. All of Egginton’s possessions had to be cleaned of both ash and extinguisher exhaust, and they were forced to do almost all of it themselves despite specific instructions to let Facilities take care of all of it. Overall, Egginton found Facilities to be very challenging to communicate with, as they provided them with inaccurate instructions and often did not respond to their emails asking for assistance or clarification. 

Egginton also told the Quest that, later on, they received a fine from a Dean of Student Life for, in their words, “endangering the building with an open flame,” among other, non-related grievances. Egginton has moved to schedule a meeting with Dr. Karnell McConnell-Black, the Vice President of Student Life, but according to Egginton, McConnell-Black has not yet responded to their request to schedule a meeting.

In order to get more insight into protocol and response to instances like this, the Quest spoke with Director of Facilities Operations Steve Yeadon. In terms of dorm building protocol, when a fire is detected by the monitoring system, a local alarm sounds for evacuation. According to Yeadon, a 3rd party company monitors the system 24/7, and, in the event of a fire, they contact Community Safety, who then immediately responds to the alarm to verify it is not a false alarm. If not, they contact 911/the fire department and then Facilities.

In response to the fact that sprinklers were not triggered in this instance, Facilities wrote that “the system effectively triggers the smoke detector in the room, resulting in an alarm of the system. The building evacuated and our monitoring service notified CS…who then immediately responded to the building. Smoke detection does not trigger the sprinklers…there was not enough heat from the fire, as it was too small to break the fusible link on the sprinklers which is exactly as we would expect the system to work. The detection monitoring system in FSM worked as we would expect and is continually tested, repaired to maintain confidence and state/national compliance.”

As for levels of training for those who respond to these instances, Yeadon was only able to speak about Facilities’ role in the matter, but said that, “Facilities conducts in-house training for our technicians. I assume CS conducts their own training.”

Concerning items possibly damaged by fire; “Facilities will remove any hazardous items…burned, damaged or contaminated materials. Personal items, such as in the case of a dorm room, will be packaged by the owner. (we provide the boxes and assistance with disposal/removal) Facilities will then work to effect repairs to any building physical damage as quickly as possible. We also arrange to replace any damaged dorm furniture.”In response to Eggington’s negative experience, Yeadon said, “I believe Facilities reached out to the student several times during this event/clean up.” He continued, “We have a responsibility to effect repairs and clean up the area as quickly as possible for both the occupant of the room as well as the other community members. Our goal is to keep residents safe and comfortable in their space as best we can without too much intrusion. Sometimes it’s difficult to accomplish this given timing and the constraints of safety and compliance that we have to work within.” Additionally, in Yeadon’s opinion, response to this instance was typical and adequate. “I must say that, from my perspective, the response of CS, the fire department and Facilities went according to our planning and expectations. As it was, this was a small fire that could have been much worse but for the speedy response of all parties.”

By Henry Kendrick.

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