Whitehouse Dorm Fire- Students sleep through evacuation, campus safety suspects intoxicated perpetrator

When Samantha Reidt, Warren junior,  heard the fire alarm blare at 2:18 a.m. in Whitehouse Hall on Thursday, March 18, she first thought it was a St. Patrick’s day joke.

“I first thought it was a drunk person trying to be funny,” Reidt said. “Then I opened the door and saw smoke in the hallway, and then I stuck my head out and saw the entire wall next to my room was on fire. I searched for a fire extinguisher, pulled out the pin on the extinguisher, aimed and fired. An intoxicated person was trying to put it out by blowing on it, but I knew that was not going to cut it.”

According to Ken Snyder, director of campus safety, after the alarm sounded, students began evacuating the building and were outside until 2:57 a.m. while the college’s campus safety and the Albion Department of Public Safety checked each room and made sure that the fire was extinguished. Residents of the third floor had to wait approximately 40 minutes longer to return due to clean up.

The early morning fire was set using several papers pinned to a bulletin board in the I-Space on the third floor of Whitehouse Hall, rather than with a Japanese flag, previously claimed by a rumor circulating campus, according to Snyder. However, a flag was hanging next to the papers was slightly burned.

“Our assumption is it’s probably someone who was intoxicated,” Snyder said. “The RAs told us that they’d had issues with people intoxicated this night. At this point we don’t have any evidence that somebody lit it on fire because they were trying to deface (the) national symbol. (It was) a stupid prank. ”

The fire resulted in approximately $150 in damage to the carpet and  walls, according to Kylee Vanek, resident director of Whitehouse Hall.

One concern Vanek had about the evacuation process was that four students from three separate rooms had e-mailed to tell her that they had slept through the alarm, despite campus safety officers checking every single room.

“I’m not sure if students did sleep through campus safety walking into the room,” Vanek said. “I’m not sure if campus safety didn’t see the students because of their comforter. I am surprised that students did sleep through the alarm. I know that when I woke, I was disoriented.”

According to Snyder, this could possibly be avoided in the future by having campus safety officers turn on the light in each room.

 “Depending on the set-up of the room, you may not be able to see (students) under the covers,” Snyder said. “As it was, it took a little more than 15 minutes to get everyone out. There were some people there we had to wake up and physically assist out. We had three different officers there.”

 With more than 100 rooms in Whitehouse Hall, Snyder said he was satisfied with the 15-minute evacuation time. A larger building such as Wesley might take 30-40 minutes to evacuate. Although no fires have been reported in this academic year, similar events such as waste-can fires have occurred multiple times in the past. 

 Vanek urged anyone with information about the fire to come forward and share the information with either herself or campus safety.  

 “We have no idea who did it,” Vanek said.  “For them to be held accountable would be important.”

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