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Arson in the UI sparks discussion on fire safety

Colleen Foster, ‘Doah Assistant Managing Editor
December 5, 2012

'Doah photo by Bailey Rankin

‘Doah photo by Bailey Rankin

On Nov. 29 around 12:45 a.m. a fire was set on the third floor of the University Inn, the former hotel converted into student housing behind Bob Evans. It was quickly suppressed and all students were evacuated, with no resulting injuries.

“I walked downstairs to the 3rd floor using the side stairs, then as I was walking to my room I smelled smoke,” recalled sophomore Christopher Frazier. “As I was talking to some friends in the hallway, I realized that I should wake my roommate, [senior] Brett Holmes, up because he is an R.A. [Resident Advisor].

“As I was going into my room the fire alarm sounded, I woke Brett up and we ran out into the hallway and heard somebody yell, ‘It’s a real fire, the bulletin board is on fire!’ so I ran down to where I could see the fire and told everybody I saw to leave the building. After I saw the fire, I yelled down to Brett telling him that it was on fire. He then broke the fire extinguisher out of the glass and metal case and then he ran down and put the fire out.”

Sophomore Kelly Scott was the last person to leave the building. “At around 1:30 a.m. I woke up to pounding on my door,” she said. “I was very startled. At first I thought I was dreaming, but then I heard it again. I cautiously got out of bed, and went to the door. I looked out the peephole, but I didn’t see anyone; needless to say, I was freaked out…

“Then a woman who was accompanied by a firefighter came out of the stairwell. They asked me if I had been asleep, and told me there had been a fire. So I got my jacket on and went outside.”

In Hester Auditorium in Henkel Hall, Residence Life and the Department of Public Safety made sure everyone was safe.
“One of the questions [Vice President for Student Life] Rhonda Van Dyke Colby asked was, ‘How many of you did not hear the fire alarm at first?’ Over half of the students in the room raised their hands!” exclaimed Scott.

Sophomore Sarah Wohld, who was just getting ready for bed when the alarm sounded, commented as well on fire safety concerns in the U.I. “As for the actual alarms, it was really loud in our room, but that’s only because we’re right next to it,” she said. “My R.A.,who I ran down to get, who I thought wasn’t in his room, was actually in there, but didn’t hear the alarm going off and just thought the noise was coming from a room next door.

“The fire alarm honestly sounds like a duck call or a distant car alarm, not like a ‘get out of the building now’ kind of alarm. And I think if that is changed then we’ll all feel a lot safer.”

It was about an hour and a half before the Winchester Police Department cleared the building of smoke and let students return to their rooms. They immediately began, alongside the Frederick County Fire Marshal, to investigate the initial cause of the fire, and determined it was an act of arson.

At press time, the identity of whoever was responsible for the crime is still unknown. Anyone with relevant information is asked to email studentlife@su.edu, call (540) 665-4779, or stop by the Department of Public Safety office, at the north end of Armstrong Hall.

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