Barnard first-years recount their first-hand experiences with the Barnard Quad fire and the resulting fallout.

The Brooks dorm fire on Monday, October 18 impacted the entire Barnard student body living in the Quad. Through speaking with multiple students and residents the night of and morning after, Bwog uncovered a greater image of the student experience that night.

During the Fire Response, Late Monday Evening

Students reported confusion when the fire alarm first went off, learning from a Barnard 2025 student group chat that the alarm was going off, despite the fact that they were in their room. Cynthia Chen, BC ’25, told Bwog: “I was in my room [Reid, 8th Floor] when… people in the Barnard 2025 group chat said ‘There’s a fire alarm’ and I, like, kind of heard it, but you can’t really hear it through [my bedroom] door.” Students in Sulzberger Hall and Sulzberger Tower also had difficulty hearing the fire alarms, with many students in the building claiming the fire alarm didn’t go off at all. 

More incidents occurred during the evacuation process itself. Chen reported glass from a Brooks window breaking and hitting her on Claremont Avenue:

At approximately 9:45 pm, Chen left Milstein through the Claremont exit. She was standing between Brooks Hall and Claremont avenue on the street level when “the window shattered…Someone started running [after the glass shattered]…I didn’t see where it came from, but my friend said they saw a window in Brooks shatter…No one was hurt… It was fine, but I would like my tuition refunded.”

Another student, who spoke directly to President Beilock, stated that the fire also caused water damage to the fifth and sixth floors of Brooks Hall. 

Students were also concerned about the lack of response from Barnard’s Community Accountability, Response, and Emergency Services (CARES) assistance for disabled residents. One resident, who was supposed to receive assistance getting down the stairs, reported to Bwog that no one showed up to help them after the fire alarm went off. They explained how they had previously submitted a Google Form with CARDS, citing their need for help in the event of a fire. However, after waiting “two minutes” for assistance, this student “had to run down the stairs into a crowd of people,” experiencing sensations of dizziness and burning in the chest. The student explained to Bwog that they are “still in pain, but…cannot afford an ambulance ride to the hospital or to stay in the hospital again.” 

Hours later, around 1 am, the student had still received no contact from CARDS. While the student is not officially registered, they had submitted the aforementioned Google Form and is in the process of registering, suggesting CARDS has “some awareness” of the student’s needs, according to the first-year. The student also shared that they have pain medication in their dorm which they were unable to access. At the time of publication, this student still does not know “why nobody [from CARES] reached out.” 

After the Fire Response, Early Tuesday Morning

On Tuesday morning, at 1:22 am, Barnard CARES sent a notification alerting students in Sulzberger Tower that they could return to their building, and followed up with subsequent messages, allowing students to return to certain floors of Sulzberger, Brooks, Reid, and Hewitt. However, other students living in floors five, six, and seven of Brooks did not receive information regarding their housing status until several hours later. 

In an email sent to a Barnard first-year at 3:18 am by Residential Life & Housing, the student was informed that it was “not possible” for her to return to her room in Brooks. The email stated that the first-year could pick up a key to a temporary space at 9 am that day—leaving her without Barnard housing for six hours overnight—with more information to come “as soon as it’s available.” This student shared with Bwog that “it did seem like there was no place to go [between 3:18 and 9 am]. Many people stayed in a friends’ dorm at Barnard or Columbia,  I believe.” The email stated that in order to pick up her belongings, she would have to be “escorted by a College staff member.” 

With some first-years unable to return to their rooms due to the fire, Residential Life & Housing relocated the students to other dorms like Plimpton, according to a Residential Life & Housing employee. The employee also stated that floors two and six of Plimpton received a deep clean before students moved in, given that these dorms previously housed students in isolation. 

Email from Residential Life & Housing to a first-year student at 3:18 am on October 19, 2021.
The formerly aflame mattress resting on the Brooks front facade roof after being defenestrated by the firefighters. Photo via anonymous Barnard first-year.

Reporting contributed by Marino Bubba, Rania Borgani, and Charlotte Slovin.

Brooks via Bwog archives