By Molly Igoe
A faulty light fixture ignited a fire on the third floor of Reid Hall on Sept. 8 at approximately 7 p.m. The fire was handled quickly and efficiently by firefighters, Public Safety, and residents.
According to the Washington College website, “There were no injuries, and Residential Life staff expected no serious disruption for other students in the residence hall.
The event started when a lighting fixture on a wall shorted out, caught fire and began filling the dorm room with smoke. The occupant notified a Resident Assistant, who pulled the fire alarm to evacuate the building and notified Public Safety. Public Safety officer Thomas Knox doused the fire with a fire extinguisher. Local volunteer firefighters responded within minutes and cleared the floor of smoke.”
The Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company responded along with other aid companies. Although the fire had already been extinguished, they had to make sure that there was no smoke inside the walls. They set up fans to ventilate the building immediately. According to the Fire Company’s Facebook page, “A firefighter sustained a minor hand injury and was treated by EMS personnel on the scene. The injured firefighter did not require transportation to a medical facility. Crews were active for approximately one hour and 15 minutes.”
“I was in my room when the fire alarm went off and I thought, not again, because we had just had a fire drill the other day, but then Shannon Lawn, the RA for the third floor was out in the hallway and was shouting ‘this is not a dril’,” said junior Erin Bloodgood, a resident of Reid Hall.
Bloodgood and other residents expressedconcern about their belongings getting wet from the sprinklers. Luckily, the damage was contained in time to prevent deployment of the sprinklers.
She praised the quick respnse times of the Fire Department and other responding personnel. She said, “It was actually a little scary to be in a situation with a real fire even though it was a small one, especially since you don’t really know what’s going on until you’re outside.”
Shannon Lawn said, “I was doing my homework and all of a sudden I heard banging on the door, and my resident came in and said ‘there’s smoke coming out of my light, what do I do?’ So by the time we went back to her room, the light was engulfed in flames. Also, I want to make it clear that the light was a light fixture on the wall and not her own light.” She pulled the fire alarm immediately after and called Public Safety at 6:55 p.m.
David Steubing, assistant director of Residence Life, arrived at the scene of the fire at about 7:15 p.m. after he received a call from one of the RAs on staff. He said that by the time he had arrived, several RAs were directing student traffic to make sure the emergency personnel on site had enough space to do their job.
In terms of general safety tips Steubing said, “My main advice that I would give to students is to take every alarm seriously. We do fire drills and sometimes encounter students who did not leave the building because they were sure it was ‘just a drill.’ The danger is that assuming an alarm is a drill can cost you your life if it is a real fire. It is not worth the risk, which is why it is also a violation of policy.”
Steubing emphasized the importance of knowing the emergency plan for their dorm building.
“Students should know the way to the nearest exit (or nearest two exits) by heart. It is helpful to know how many doors are between your room and the exit so you can feel your way by counting doors should the smoke be too thick to see. Knowing where fire safety equipment like extinguishers are is important. Each room/suite door should have an emergency exit plan on the back of it.”
Jerry Roderick, director of Public Safety said, “We have determined that the cause of the fire was definitely the light fixture on the wall. Afterwards, we examined the light fixture and found that if there is any looseness in the light bulb’s sockets, it will catch fire.”
The light bulb caught on fire as a result of the resident taking down their loft bed.
Roderick said, “Five years ago on Sept. 9 there was another fire in Reid that was caused because a bed was stacked near the lights.”
“The long-range plan is to re-outfit Reid’s lights so they are safer because they were originally not designed with lofted beds in mind. Buildings and Grounds will further inspect the lights and make plans,” he said.
Director of the Physical Plant at the College, Reid Raudenbush said, “We called Gipe Associates Inc., an engineering company in Easton, and they explained that fluorescent lights lock into tubes and when they are loosened, a gap is created which increases the likelihood that the light will ignite. They concluded that the cause of the fire was due to the end of the light creating an arc and igniting.”
Raudenbush explained the three courses of action that will take place to ensure student’s safety. The first is for Residence Life to move lofted units away from the lights, or to take down the lofted beds. The second is for Buildings and Grounds to go through Reid and check every light fixture to make sure they are locked into place. Third, Buildings and Grounds will relocate the lights to the ceiling and replace them with LED fixtures.
He described the numerous renovations that Reid has undergone. “Reid was built in 1898, so it is a fairly old building. During the 1980s, the lights were placed on the walls to allow better lighting for students studying at desks. Then, in the 1990s, lofted beds began being purchased and placed in these rooms, which has become a problem.”