On Sunday, April 1 just after 9 a.m., a fire was discovered in the first floor bathroom of Pittenger residence hall. According to Director of Public Safety Michael Hill, the fire, which was due to a faulty exhaust fan, was reported around 9:30 a.m. and extinguished at approximately 9:37 a.m. Two students were moved from their rooms due to smoke exposure, but have since been cleared to return.
“The cause of the fire was an exhaust fan. The exhaust fan was severely damaged in the fire, but it appears that the fire began when the fan motor seized,” Hill wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.
Zach Viscusi ’20, a second-floor Pittenger resident, discovered the fire that Sunday morning when he smelled smoke.
“I thought it was coming from my heater because I left my windows open that night and figured the heater was running overtime to keep the room warm. I took a quick waft from the heater and realized it wasn’t outside or my heater … I speed walked to the 2nd floor bathroom, opened the door and thought I discovered the cause. A trashcan too close to the heater. ‘Was this what was lighting on fire?’ I asked myself. I moved it away from the heater and felt I had saved everyone,” Viscusi wrote in an e-mail.
However, Viscusi’s trash can turned out not to be the cause of the fire.
“Going back towards my room after a job well done, I smelled smoke even more than when I was in the bathroom on the 2nd floor. I thought, ‘This can’t be!’ I turned the corner and bounded down the steps into a murky first floor. I opened that bathroom door and a thick black smoke emerged. I tracked it instantaneously as heading towards the fire alarm,” Viscusi wrote. “I ran upstairs and threw clothes on, got my block mate out of his single and sprinted to safety. We later found out it was an electrical malfunction in the ceiling fan.”
In an email sent to Pittenger residents on Sunday, April 2, Resident Communities Coordinator Asraa Jaber expressed that the damage from the fire was minor.
“No one was injured and damage was minimal, but the fire did produce a significant amount of black smoke and some residents have been temporarily relocated while the area is ventilated,” Jaber wrote.
According to Hill, the temporary relocation has since been resolved.
“There was no damage to rooms that we are aware of, and all other bathrooms are open, so only two students asked to move because of the smell of smoke that remained,” Hill wrote. “At this point all students are cleared to return to their rooms and there have been no other issues.”
Hill said that facilities has begun inspecting other exhaust fans in Pittenger, Palmer, and Roberts dorms as well as in buildings on campus, and emphasized the importance of fire safety.
“I do want to take a moment to remind everyone how important fire safety is. Please don’t assume that an alarm is a false activation. Leave the building by the nearest exit. If you can extinguish the fire safely do so BUT never put yourself in harm’s way. If you know what caused the alarm call Public Safety immediately so the officers can respond and address the issue as quickly as possible. It is a shared responsibility,” he wrote.
He also expressed gratitude for the relative lack of harm from the fire.
“We are extremely fortunate that there were no injuries and only minimal damage. I am especially appreciative of the efforts of the responding officers, emergency responders, Facilities, OSE and the RCCs who came and supported the students through the incident,” Hill wrote.
The damaged bathroom reopened yesterday, Wednesday, April 4, and is once again available for student use.