Neilson fires up finals

March 19, 2009

by Danielle Cintron

Most people want to see the inside of their eyelids at 3 o’clock in the morning, especially during finals, but for the men of Neilson Dormitory, smoke and water created a nightmare on Railroad Avenue.

On Friday, Feb. 20 at approximately 2:50 a.m., an unknown person intentionally set a fire on the ninth floor of Neilson Dormitory. As a result of the fire, the residents were displaced for several hours, and many suffered property damage due to the activation of the sprinkler system.

Tech Police Chief Randal M. Hermes said the fire originated from a trash can.

“Someone had set the contents of a trash can on fire and then leaned a mattress against it,” he said.

Hermes explained the mattress was one provided by the school.

“Those mattresses have a fire retardant in them, so when the fire reached the mattress there weren’t flames, but it was smoldering,” he said.

Hermes also said the fire did not spread or cause any damage to the building’s structure.

“The fire was directly beneath a sprinkler,” he said. “The real trouble came from all the water from the sprinklers.”

Hermes said the water made its way from the ninth floor to the first floor.

“Sprinkler water drained through the middle and outer stairwells,” he said. “However, some water did seep under the residents’ doors.”

Due to the water, shock hazards became the next concern for the police Hermes said.

“Several of the residents had electric appliances on the floors of their rooms, and many of them also had carpet,” he said. “The officers and [Residential Assistants] went through the floors and unplugged anything that seemed hazardous.”

Hermes also said the RAs were very helpful and assisted with the damage reports.

Melanie Peel, coordinator of assignments department of residential life, said the RAs were evacuating residents as soon as the fire alarm went off.

“They are trained to evacuate the residents and assist the Tech police in any way possible,” Peel said.

She also said the RAs from other dorms helped the Neilson staff as well.

“Our staff has a tight relationship, and when the alarm went off they started calling each other for help,” Peel said.

Along with watching the stairs to make sure no resident wandered into the building, Peel said the RAs took damage reports from those who were affected.

Charles Johnson, Neilson resident and a sophomore civil engineering major, said his room was located a few doors down from the fire.

“I heard the alarm going off, but I just figured someone had set it off again,” Johnson said. “When it didn’t stop I looked out my door, saw the smoke and heard some guy screaming with a fire extinguisher in his hands.”

He said the residents evacuated around 3 a.m. and were finally called back into the dorm around 4:45 a.m.

“The police explained that it would take at least an hour to clean up the water,” Johnson said. “I had a calculus exam in the morning, so I headed over to [my friend’s house].”

He said the dorms re-opened around 6 a.m.

“My carpet was soaked so I just threw it out, but my laptop and school books got wet,” Johnson said. “A police officer told me to put my name on a list and report anything that was damaged. Turned out my laptop was fine, and the books dried out, so I just let it be.”

Johnson also said when the police put out the report about the fire, a $2,000 reward was mentioned for information concerning the fire’s instigator.