Our Opinion: Fire Reveals Lack Of Preparation

Last Sunday evening, a fire broke out in an apartment on the 14th floor of the Clairmont Tower apartment building while an Emory student attempted to cook a chicken for dinner. Smoke from the oven set off the automatic fire sprinkler system. Firetrucks swarmed the building. Students evacuated, and many had to find temporary housing for the night.

Actual fires are fairly uncommon on campus, but in light of what happened last Sunday, we at the Wheel have a number of concerns regarding how events played out in addition to University policies.

Our first concern is that Clairmont Tower’s alarm system did not activate on floors 15, 16 and 17, leaving some students oblivious to the fire that was occurring just a few floors below them. Such malfunctioning is unacceptable, and threatens the lives of our fellow students. The University must aggressively work to improve fire safety measures in its residence halls, primarily by ensuring that alarm systems function throughout their respective buildings. The University should also install fire extinguishers in all residences with kitchens — there was not a fire extinguisher in the kitchen where the fire broke out — and ensure that all residents are properly informed as to the hall’s emergency procedures.

In the way of communication, as emergency vehicles arrived on campus, students on Clairmont campus did not know what was occurring. To better facilitate the dissemination of crucial emergency information to students, such as an active fire, we believe the University should send text messages and emails to all students as the situation is developing — not afterward.

When the sprinklers went off in Clairmont Tower, many residents suffered damage to their personal property. University policy dictates that Emory is not liable for any damage to personal property in a residence hall, but should this policy be enforced if the cause of the fire is a malfunctioning oven, which is provided by the University? Again, the investigation is ongoing, but in the event it is clear that the problem was the oven, we believe the University should revisit and consider its reimbursement policy regarding damage to personal property.

Finally, regardless of any future efforts that Emory will make to ensure the safety of its residents, these procedures are only as effective as the people that will adhere to them. It is common for students to ignore fire alarms so as to avoid the inconvenience of evacuating their building for what is generally assumed to be a fire drill or a malfunctioning alarm. This is as unsafe, if not more so, than any lack of emergency preparedness on the part of the University.

The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.