A fire in New Women’s West Tower was reported to the MC Campus Safety Office on Feb. 8, 2021, at 2:37 p.m. The Clinton Fire Department was on the scene just four minutes later. The fire was in the second-floor laundry room and was contained in the upper cabinet of the dryer machine. The fire was extinguished immediately upon the arrival of CFD.
The towers have an automatic fire suppression system that activates the overhead sprinklers. This system activates based on the conditions and the temperature in the building. Only one sprinkler was activated in the laundry room. Smoke and water damage were the primary causes of the damage and required extensive cleanup led by the physical plant and a third-party contractor.
MC has had issues in the past with washers and dryers with loose belts falling off from so much use, causing the rubber to burn. This results in a lot of smoke but no actual fire. That was the case in New Men’s Residence Hall just weeks prior to the West Tower fire.
“An actual fire does not occur very often, although we do have fire alarms. In most cases, the fire alarms are false and quickly resolved,” said Director of the Office of Public Safety Mike Warren. He explained the procedure taken by the Office of Public Safety when a fire is reported:
“We will dispatch on-duty MCPS officers to the call and verify that Clinton Fire Department has been dispatched. The dispatcher can then start to review any surveillance video for the area to try and detect the presence of smoke or fire. CFD typically has a very fast response time, but our officers will try to get there first to help direct the resources of CFD,” said the MCPS director.
Another issue that the laundry rooms face is lint trays in the machines filling up from students not cleaning them properly. “Students can help mitigate these events by being careful not to overload the machines, check the lint traps in the dryer before starting it, and by checking on it frequently when in use,” said Warren.
The cause of the West fire was an electrical fire that got hot enough to activate the sprinkler system. There is a certain temperature degree that the glass vial in the head of the sprinkler system needs to reach before it activates. These sprinklers push out a large amount of water per minute once activated.
Most of the damage from the fire was localized to the location of the dryer. The sprinklers only went off in the laundry room. Much of the damage throughout the building was smoke and water damage. Water ran down the hallway of the second floor and down the stairs to the first floor. Because of this, many residents of West had to be relocated as the cleanup began.
Raney’s Carpet Care Inc. was brought in with dehumidifiers and fans to help dry out the floor and clean out the rooms near the fire to amend the damage. The residents who had to relocate from the incident were moved back into their dorms within a week.
Since the incident, Dean of Students Dr. Jonathan Ambrose reassured students that they have called in the third-party vendor who provided the laundry machines to go through all buildings and do some extra general maintenance to make sure future issues can be prevented as much as possible. “It’s extremely reassuring– the close relationships that we have with local entities like the local Clinton Police Department and Clinton Fire Department. By the time I got to West, they already had trucks there with guys in the building,” said Ambrose. “They view the MC family as their own and acted accordingly with their quick response; it’s encouraging to see how we can take care of each other when things go wrong.”