Connecticut College News
Firestarters Cause Trouble in JA - Sarah Weiss ´1204/27/2009
On Sunday April 19 at 3:30 AM, campus safety officers rushed to Jane Adams House to put out a fire set by two Conn students, junior Reid Larsen and sophomore Frederick Pierce. No one was injured. The students left the tent dance Saturday night and returned to JA. According to the Housefellow Catherine Lindberg, the boys were "goofing around" with a lighter outside and continued to light things on fire as they moved into the building. They were told to leave, but soon came back and proceeded to light fires on the third and fourth floors of JA. Fourth floor resident Hannah Brassord explained that burnt streamers, leftover from a birthday party, appeared to be the most significant burning done on her floor. One third floor resident said, "[On the fourth floor] they had taken out the drawers and shoved it with leaves and paper, and luckily, because there wasn´t a whole lot of air circulation up there, it just kind of died out on its own. That could have been a serious fire. This one [on the third floor] was just a broom lit on fire, but the scary part was it was on a floor where there was tons of alcohol; it could have been a lot more hazardous than it ended up being." After lighting the fires, the students went back to their respective residence halls. Neither lives in JA. Lindberg was asked by a campus safety officer if the boys had any enemies in JA. "The thing that was hard was that it was not malicious, they literally don´t have any enemies… it was just a stupid thing. Actually the room it happened in front of was one of their best friends. They just weren´t thinking...they didn´t want to hurt anyone…so they went back to their dorms, probably assuming they hadn´t actually lit anything or that it had just been put out…they didn´t leave thinking the building was on fire," Lindberg explained. The fire on the third floor of JA set off the alarm system and caused the students of both JA and Freeman House to evacuate, because the fire alarms between the two dorms are connected. Freeman residents were allowed to re-enter, but JA residents waited outside for over thirty minutes, some claiming up to an hour. Four campus safety officers immediately responded to the alarm. Officer Mike Silver put out the fire on the third floor with a fire extinguisher, and the New London fire department was contacted immediately. Upon their arrival, they declared the scene safe for students to reenter the residence halls. Many students did not respond to the fire alarm, many choosing to ignore it or sleep through it. Each room on the third and fourth floor was checked to make sure students evacuated, but not everyone in the residence hall was roused because the scene was declared safe before the whole dorm had been checked. The unresponsive action of many students to the fire alarm is troubling for some. "It was kind of nerve racking," said one student. "People pull the fire alarms all the time down here, so I think a lot of people didn´t really take it seriously…I wasn´t going to get up until I went out in the hallway and saw the fire down the hall…So I think the fact that we do screw around and pull fire alarms all the time kind of underestimates the real thing." "I wouldn´t say I was scared, I was definitely very alert," said one senior on the third floor. "I saw the fire, I actually could smell it, my door was opened…I went out into the [hall]. I tried to warn people that this is not a joke, a real fire. The alarm was too loud so nobody could hear me." One student who ran away at the smell of fire pointed out the new white tiles on the third floor of JA, put there to replace the damaged ones from the fire. The burnt tiles were the extent of the damage to the building. Sunday evening JA held a house meeting to discuss what happened and to deal with any concerns over safety. Assistant Director of Residential Life, Joe Cote, came to the meeting to talk to the students. When asked if they still feel safe in their dorms, students of JA had the same general response, "yes." "I would say that I definitely am more aware of taking things like fire drills more seriously, but I don´t think I feel less safe, I think that a couple kids screwed up on a Saturday night and that doesn´t change the fact that it´s the first slip up in years," replied one student. Housefellow Lindberg agreed. "I think the general feeling now is that people don´t feel less safe than they did before, I just think people realize that if they hear a fire alarm, ok I´m going to go out." Director of Campus Safety, Stewart Smith, was pleased with how well the response to the incident went. "Everything happened as intended, A to Z followed course…we constantly try to make things safer; we´re doing everything we can to make campus safe. We´ll continue to look for new ideas to make it safer." The students who started the fires were arrested and held in jail for at least twelve hours. According to Dean Briddell they have been charged with reckless burning, first-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree breach of peace, and third-degree criminal mischief. The prosecutors´ office of New London will determine if they will be criminally prosecuted. A Connecticut College Judicial Board trial is being held Monday April 27 to decide the fate of the students in regards to their standing at the college. Currently they are residentially suspended and have been living with their families, while still being allowed to attend classes and to enter other facilities at Connecticut College, besides the residence halls.