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Stove Fire In Columbia Brownstone Shows Larger Issues With Fire Alarms

Around 12:45 am on Monday, September 17th, a resident in 627 W 115th St. (also known as Owl House, or the former ZBT brownstone) turned on the stove in the studio double that she shares with a roommate, Dallas Koelling, CC ’20, for the first time since moving in. According to Facilities, stoves (as well as other appliances) were checked over the summer to ensure they function properly. However, according to Koelling, “Normal blue flame [came] out, then [stopped], then red flames [started] coming from inside the stove.”

Within a few seconds, the flame rose to be about a foot high and “there was smoke everywhere,” to the point of obstructing sight and making it difficult to breathe, according to Koelling. She said, “smoke filled my entire kitchen and most of the hallway, but no smoke alarm sounded.” Her roommate put out the fire with a fire extinguisher and Koelling called public safety. Then they ran out of the brownstone, but the rest of the building was not evacuated.

The fire department was called to the scene. They shut off the gas, pulled the stove away from the wall, and checked the stove for signs of combustion or burnt food, according to Facilities. The superintendent, who was also called, appeared dismissive of Koelling and her roommate’s concerns about the fact that the smoke detector was not working, according to Koelling. Koelling and her roommate were told to return to their room to sleep on Sunday night.

According to Facilities, the smoke detector closest to the kitchen and the one in the hallway were tested subsequent to the event and confirmed to be in working order, and it is likely that not enough smoke was produced to set them off. Facilities also stated that there was no smoke residue on the stove, cabinets, or walls around the stove according to reports from first responders, and that “upon Public Safety and FDNY’s arrival on the scene, there was no fire, smoke residue, or smoke odor in the apartment or the hallway.” However, it remains that the residents of the room judged the fire big enough to put it out with a fire extinguisher. The FDNY did not respond to a request for comment.

Campus Operations came by before 10 am that morning, Monday, September 17th, to replace the fire extinguisher and the smoke detector, and clean the kitchen area. Facilities stated that a new stove/oven has been ordered and will be installed as soon as it arrives.

Meanwhile, residents in East Campus have the opposite problem: an abundance of false fire alarms. Sam Mueller, CC ’19, said that “There are fire alarms all the time for no reason.” Another ongoing issue in EC has been mold. One anonymous EC resident stated about the fire alarms and mold that “In both cases it’s clear [that Housing hasn’t] taken any preemptive action — rather than maintain the building, they wait until a critical mass of students are miserable and than provide laughably dangerous solutions that don’t fix the root issue.”

The reason for these fire alarms is “pervasive condensation on the building’s fire safety electrical wires,” according to an email that Housing sent to EC residents. Their temporary solution was to station Public Safety officers who examine every detector that gets triggered, and manually pull fire alarms in the case of an actual fire or smoke conditions. According to a different email sent by Housing to EC residents, “high humidity and record-breaking rainfall in the month of August have created damp conditions” that are causing problems with the fire safety electrical wires and mold. The high frequency of false fire alarms was also an ongoing issue last year.

With the high frequency of false fire alarms and reports like the stove fire in 627 W 115th, whether fire alarms will start to serve facilities’ intended purpose in a way that will keep residents safe and happy remains to be seen.

Fire Alarm via Bwog Archives

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