Keeping the citizens of San Jose and the Bay Area Safe through education and awareness and Informed with the most current and up-to-date news and information pertaining to you and your family's safety.
parents out there with soon to be college freshman living amongst your midst,
this is a very exciting time of year for both you and your undergraduate.However, it can also be a very stressful and sad
affair because for many, their babies will be leaving home for the first time, in
some cases living thousands of miles away, in others, just the next town over.
case, the decisions and things to do and think about can be overwhelming to
even the most organized of families.Something can get easily overlooked among all the issues to deal with
such as: summer orientation, transcripts, housing, meal plans, financial aid,
class schedules, and textbooks just to name a few. There are
two items however that must absolutely be on the top of your to-do-list: discussing
fire safety with your college bound loved one and investigating the living
conditions of your child’s new living arrangements.
article, I will be reflecting back on the deadliest college dorm fire to date
in the United States, the Providence College fire in Providence, Rhode Island
on December 13, 1977, the site where 10 female students lost their lives in a
fast moving fire.And after I have convinced
you to put fire safety on the top of you to-do-list for the upcoming school
year, I will also be discussing what to consider in regards to fire safety when
deciding on either a campus dorm or off-campus living arrangement.
however, I would like you to take a look at some facts about campus fires and
then a short video to drive home the point.
According to the National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA), between the years 2005 and 2009, U.S. fire
departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,840 structure fires
in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks that resulted in 3
civilian deaths, 38 civilian fire injuries, and $20.9 million in direct
property damage.The reported leading
cause of fires was cooking, followed by arson, smoking materials, heating
equipment, negligence with heat sources, candles, and electrical.Statistics also show that fires in these
occupancies occur mostly between the hours of 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. and on
Campus Firewatch, a website dedicated
to campus fire safety, did a study on fire deaths on our campuses from January
2000 to April 2007 and found that 109 people died in student housing
fires.The Study also revealed that in
excess of 80% of the fire deaths occurred in off-campus houses and apartments,
with the remainder occurring in residence halls or fraternity houses.
1917, Providence College sits on 105 acres of prime real estate in the city’s
Elmhurst neighborhood.The campus is
completely gated and sits atop Smith Hill, the highest point in Providence.
consists of three main gates, nineteen academic and administrative buildings,
nine dorms, five apartment complexes, three residential homes, four athletic
buildings, and a host of other support structures.
population of Providence College is approximately 4,600, drawing most from the
states of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New
Jersey.Since the college is known as a
private, coeducational, Roman Catholic university, approximately one-third of
incoming students attended Catholic high schools.
at the Providence Communications Center received a pull station alarm from the
fourth floor at Aquinas Hall at approximately 2:57 in the morning.Immediately, three engines, 2 ladder trucks
and a battalion chief were dispatched to investigate the pull station alarm,
something they had done hundreds of times at the college over the years.
Company 12 and Ladder Company 3 were first to arrive on scene and immediately
struck a 2nd alarm due to the numerous students awaiting rescue at
the windows of the building. In fact,
rescue operations at the windows were made more difficult because of how
vehicles were parked around the building.One student, identified only as Matt, painted a clear picture as to the
initial chaos: “They couldn’t get the trucks close enough because of the cars
in the parking lot, so dozens of students pushed the cars out of the way on the
snow slicked lot.”
In fact, many students and all the fire
fighters on the scene that night were to be commended for their heroic
actions.According to the report, “Fire
fighters were assisted by Providence College students who helped to raise
ladders and drag hose lines.”Eventually
fire fighters were able to advance 1 ½” hose lines up the center stairwell and
down the corridor to the room of origin, #406, and extinguish the fire.
Demers, a member of the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire
Investigations Department, wrote an abstract of the subsequent investigation
into the fire titled “Ten Students Die in Providence College Dormitory
article, Mr. Demers summarizes the incident as follows: “In the early-morning
hours of December 13, 1977, a fire occurred at Aquinas Hall, a dormitory at
Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.This fire resulted in the deaths of ten female students who were residents
of the fourth floor.The primary fuel
for the fire was highly combustible Christmas decorations that had been put up
in the corridors.The extremely rapid
fire development and a dead-end hallway were the most significant factors that
contributed to the multiple loss of life.”
at the time was a four-story U-shaped building constructed in the late
1930’s.The structure contained
classrooms and a chapel on the first floor and a girl’s dormitory on the
remaining upper three floors.The
dormitory did have a fire alarm system consisting of pull stations,
fixed-temperature heat detectors, and interior alarm horns.The alarm system was connected to the
Providence Fire Alarm and Communications Center through a master fire alarm box.There were no smoke detectors or automatic
sprinklers in the building. Portable fire extinguishers stored in break-in
glass cabinets were available in the hallways of each floor.
enclosed stairways serviced Aquinas Hall, one in the center stair tower which
also contained an elevator, and the other two on each end of the building.One of the structural components of this
building that was determined to have contributed to the deaths of four of the
ten women was dead-end corridors.Dead-end corridors are basically a hallway which does not have an
alternate means of egress besides the one you originally entered through. Take
a wrong turn from your dormitory room and you will end up at a dead-end, and if
you happen to be between the fire and the exit, chances are you will not
survive.Many citizens including
firefighters have died in dead-end corridors over the years.
structural feature that contributed to the spread of this deadly fire had to do
with the room doors leading out into the corridors.The doors were made of a wood composite with
air transfer grills located approximately five feet up from the bottom of the door.The doors were not of the self-closing type you
see today and the grills were made of cheap pressed board with holes in it,
very similar to “pegboard”.
important building feature that played a significant role in how the products
of combustion spread through this building was the way heat was supplied to the
rooms.Each room was supplied with heat
by hot-air supply ducts and air registers located in the exterior walls with
return-air grills located in the corridors.This configuration created an air flow from the rooms into the corridors.
Therefore, on a cold night as it was on
this night, one can assume that the heating system was in full operation and
air is circulating the way it was designed to.This of course is not a problem until there is a fire.A fire in any of the rooms, particularly if
the door was left open, would force heat, smoke, and flames into the corridors
at an alarming rate; Combine this with flammable Christmas decorations on the
walls in the corridors and you have a recipe for disaster.
Fire Development and Spread
As the fire progressed from the incipient stage to the growth stage, three women in Room 406 awoke from the smell of smoke and went to the window and opened it.As soon as they did this, additional oxygen was added to the fire causing it to grow in intensity.As the heat and smoke intensified, two of the women moved out onto the window ledge, the other female waited in the window.Meanwhile, because of the air movement caused by the building’s heating system as described earlier, heat, smoke and flame began moving towards the front door leading out into the corridor.
Even though the girl’s dormitory room door leading to the corridor was closed, fire was able to penetrate the “pegboard” air transfer grill and out into the corridor igniting Christmas decorations that lined the hallway in both directions.
Back at Room 406, the three women who are trapped are now beginning to realize that time is running out.Sadly, before ladders could be raised, two of the women jumped to their deaths.The third woman who remained in the window fortunately remained long enough for firefighters to get a ladder to her and bring her down, uninjured.
The Origin and Cause of the Fire
According to the report, the physical evidence shows that the fire began in Room 406, somewhere in the vicinity of the bedroom closet.Unfortunately, investigators were never able to determine the initial ignition source of this fire, although there was much speculation from non-fire personnel. Some who lived in Aquinas Hall believe that a hair dryer used to dry wet mittens from a snowball fight earlier was the cause, while others heard it was a gooseneck lamp illuminating a nativity scene in the corridor next to Room 406.Whatever the cause, the sad fact is that ten women lost their lives that night and many others were injured both physically and mentally for the rest of their lives.
As mention above, two of the ten women who died in this fire died from injuries after jumping from the 4th floor.Four students died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation, and four died as a direct result of burns.Twelve students and one firefighter suffered minor to moderate injuries.
The Final Analysis
According to investigators, there were three major factors that caused the deaths of ten Providence College students. One, the highly combustible decorations added to the corridor walls, two, the long dead-end corridors, and three, the heating system.
To celebrate the holidays, a decoration competition among the individual dorms had taken place with students vying for cash prizes for both best individual room and best decorated corridor. Decorations were made from various materials including: natural evergreen Christmas trees, wreaths, both brown and crepe paper, straw and cotton.All the items applied to the walls were secured by masking tape.These decorations provided a continuous chain of combustible material down the corridor allowing for rapid fire spread on the fourth floor.
Again, listing dead-end corridors as a contributing factor to four of the ten deaths, the report reiterates what I mentioned earlier regarding dead-end hallways; residents leaving their rooms in the dead-end corridor were prevented from reaching the exit because the fire was between them and the stairwell, blocking off their only safe egress from the building.
Third, was the failure of the room of origin being able to contain the fire only to that room.Once again, investigators believe the design of the heating system allowed returned air to move through the room and out into the corridor through the transfer grill located in each of the individual doors, thus contributing the spread of the fire.
College Campus Fire Safety Tips
The National Fire Protection Association's Public Education Division recommends the following safety tips:
Look for fully sprinklered housing when choosing a dorm or off-campus housing.
Make sure you can hear the building alarm system when you are in your dorm room.
If you live in a dormitory, make sure your sleeping room has a smoke alarm, or your dormitory suite has a smoke alarm in each living area as well as the sleeping room. For the best protection, all smoke alarms in the apartment unit or house should be interconnected so that when one sounds, they all sound.
Test all smoke alarms at least monthly.
Never remove batteries or disable the alarm.
Learn your building's evacuation plan and practice all drills as if they were the real thing.
If you live off campus, have a fire escape plan with two ways out of every room.
When the smoke alarm or fire alarm sounds, get out of the building quickly and stay out.
Stay in the kitchen when cooking.
Cook only when you are alert, not sleepy or drowsy from medicine or alcohol.
Check with you local fire department for any restrictions before using a barbeque grill, fire pit, or chimenea.
Check your school's rules before using electrical appliances in your room.
In addition to the recommendations from the NFPA, I would also like all of you to consider the following as well:
Stop by the nearest fire station that serves the college and the surrounding area and speak with the firefighters on duty about fire safety at the college. Ask them about response times, particularly if they are out on another emergency call and another station has to fill-in. Find out about any fire protection systems that might be in place and how often they are tested and maintained. Ask if there is a annual or semi-annual inspection program for both on and off campus housing and if available, ask to see the last five years of inspection forms.
If your child is living in a residence hall, inquire about regulations concerning the combustibility of contents such as furniture, wall and floor finishes. Regulations should include the use of appliances such as microwaves, refrigerators, and hot plates. In addition, rules should already be in place regarding the use of open flames, including candles, incense, and smoking. Many residence halls have senior student classmen, often referred to as resident assistants or RA's, that are tasked with helping the students in the building. Often times they are also responsible for fire safety in the dorm and should have received training in identifying potential fire hazards and fire safety education. Find out if such a program is in place and ascertain if the RA's live in the dorm as well.
Regardless of where you child is going to be living, check out the housekeeping yourself. Look for rubbish or weeds around the exterior of the building, how garbage is stowed away, etc. Pay particular attention to stairwells looking for propped open fire doors, proper emergency lighting, fire sprinklers and above all, check for combustible storage under stairways. Make sure hallways are free of items such as shopping carts, bicycles, etc.
When looking at the room, check to see that enough electrical outlets are in place and that they are not overloaded.
Organizations involved in campus fire safety can be a great source of information. I recommend you check out the following websites:
I hope this information has helped you in deciding the safest possible living arrangements for your soon to be college grad. Fire safety must be a priority for you and your child. Young adults typically have a sense of invulnerability, you know, the old "this is never going to happen to me" attitude. But the fact of the matter is, campus environments can be dangerous places with close living quarters and risky behavior.
In a prophetic kind-of-way, staff writer for the National Fire Protection Association's 'NFPA JOURNAL' Kathleen Robinson wrote a piece in the May/June 2012 edition titled 'Fire Down in Texas' highlighting the Texas City disaster in 1947. Here is how Kathleen describes the worst industrial accident in the history of our country:
For a time, it seemed to the people of Texas City that all they did was go to funerals. So wrote Steve Olafson in the April 13, 1997 edition of the Houston Chronicle, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Texas City, Texas, explosion and fire, the worst industrial accident in United States history.
The disaster began around 8 a.m. on April 16, 1947, as a stevedore prepared to load ammonium nitrate from the Monsanto Chemical plant onto the SS Grandcamp, berthed nearby at the Texas City docks. When he entered the hold, which contained some ammonium nitrate that had been loaded the day before, as well as machinery, peanuts, and twine, he smelled smoke. Moving some of the cargo, he uncovered the fire and called for water, according to a report written days later by the Fire Prevention and Engineering Bureau of Texas and the National Board of Fire Underwriters. Two containers of water thrown on the blaze had no effect, so the stevedore tried to put it out using a soda-acid extinguisher. When that, too, failed, he called for a hose line. Before it arrived, however, he was told not to apply water, as it might damage the cargo.
By now, about half an hour had passed, and the stevedores abandoned ship. The fire department was called to the scene at around 8:30 a.m., and two trucks arrived, followed shortly by two more trucks. Firefighters began laying hose lines and streaming water from the dock, but the ship's hull was so hot by 9 a.m. that the water vaporized when it hit the deck.
Twelve minutes later, the ship disappeared in a tremendous explosion, destroying the dock, the Monsanto plant, and other buildings, as well as a number of oil and chemical storage tanks. The explosion also set fire to the SS High flyer, which carried 2,000 tons (1,814 metric tons) of sulfur and 961 (872 metric tons) tons of ammonium nitrate.
Early that afternoon, tugboats made several unsuccessful attempts to move the High Flyer, according to the Fire Prevention Bureau's report. At 10 or 11 p.m. they finally freed the ship, pulling it about 100 feet (31 meters) away before it too, exploded.
The toll of the explosions and fire was enormous. Property losses were estimated at $67 million, and thousands of people were injured. Although the exact number of people killed will never be known, a monument to the victims notes that 576 people, 398 of whom could be identified, died. Among them were 27 of the Texas City Fire Department's 28 firefighters.
We wanted to take a moment to mention the horrific fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas and pray for all those that have been affected by this tragic incident. Somewhat overshadowed by the terrible events that went down in Boston, West Texas residents have suffered an even larger loss of life in an explosion that was so strong it registered on the Richter Scale.
It has been reported by officials on the scene that at least 200 have been injured and 14 killed in the blast. As a long-time member of the fire service, I'm even more sadden to report that 10 of the 14 who lost their lives were first responders, including five members of the West Texas Fire Department and 4 paramedics. Names of the deceased are just now coming to light including one volunteer and one off-duty fire captain.
In Memory is Kenny Harris, 52, an off-duty Dallas Fire Department captain who lost his life after responding from his home located just a few miles south of the fertilizer plant. I'm sure that Captain Harris's death will be classified as a line-of-duty-death (LODD).
In Memory is Jerry Chapman, volunteer firefighter with the West Texas Fire Department who lost his life while in the line-of-duty. Firefighter Chapman was described by loved ones as a man who always carried his pager and radio; ready to help anyone, anytime, day or night.
Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and loved ones affected by this horrible incident. Thoughts and prayers also go out to each and every individual who was affected by the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident that will never be forgotten in the minds of all good Americans.
If you would like to help, you can do so by donating to:
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has established a fund for monetary donations for the survivors and co-workers of the fire and EMS personnel who died in the line of duty. Mail checks to NFFF c/o West Texas Fire and EMS Fallen Hero Fund, P.O. Drawer 498, Emmitsburg, Maryland, 21727. You may also go to the foundation's website at www.firehero.org/ to donate on line. They also will facilitate messages to donate apparatus, equipment, and turn-out gear through firehero.org/contact. Remember, most volunteer firefighters and their families are not entitled to survivorship benefits, nor are they often covered should they be injured, so please consider donating today.
A victim's fund has been set up at the Pointwest Bank. Checks can be mailed to the bank at 200 W.Oak, West, Texas, 76691 or P.O. Box 279, West, Texas, 76691. Call 254-826-5333 for more information, including who to address the check to.
Fire Sentry is a bi-monthly post dedicated to keeping you safe from fire through the experience of other who have been victimized by this natural phenomena that is present everywhere in our society. We in the fire service routinely critique past fires in hopes of identifying what went right and wrong and sharing those experiences with other jurisdictions in hopes that their fire ground operations benefit in the future. In the same spirit, it is our hope here at Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants that you and your family learn from the incidents told here in Fire Sentry. Become your family's personal Fire Marshal by holding your own critique and discussing these incidents with loved ones, it just may save a life. ALWAYS REMEMBER, HAVE AN ESCAPE PLAN AND WORKING SMOKE DETECTORS!
Incidents presented in this post are taken from the bi-monthly publication of the National Fire Protection Association's 'NFPA JOURNAL'. Specific incidents are found in the 'NEWS + ANALYSIS' section titled 'FIREWATCH' composed by staff writer, Ken Tremblay.
THOSE WITH ELDERLY PARENTS
Alaska- A 92-year old woman living in a basement converted into a separate apartment unit with egress to the outside was found dead of smoke inhalation when a cookbook sitting to close to a stove-top heating element caught fire. A battery operated smoke alarm had been installed in the first floor hallway of the single family structure, but not in the converted basement living unit. There were no sprinklers in the home.
Reported by a neighbor at 01:28 p.m., firefighters were confronted by neighbors warning them that an elderly woman may still be inside and so crews immediately switched from attack mode to rescue operations. Unfortunately, the resident was found by firefighters near the door leading to the outside where she had no viable vital signs and was determined to be deceased.
Fire investigators determined that the 92-year old victim turned on one of the heating elements to boil water for a cup of tea, sadly however, a cookbook was dangerously close to the element and consequently ignited due to the radiant heat. Investigators hypothesize that the next closest fuel package, the kitchen cabinets, ignited from the heat energy being given off from the cookbook and from that point to other combustibles within the kitchen.
It must be noted here for all of you taking care of elderly parents or have a loved one just living alone that may have physical or mental challenges , that the victim in this fire was barely ambulatory and suffered from dementia. Older adults, ages 65 and older, are considered a "High-Risk" group by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and therefore deserve special attention when it comes to education and prevention.
For example, did you know that adults 65-75 are two times more likely to die in a fire than the general public? And that number increases again one more time or 3 times more likely for those aged 75 and older? I will be submitting a article addressing high-risk groups in my next post.
Washington- Two elderly folks succumbed to their injuries suffered in a fire that began in their single-wide mobile home after a cigarette fell undetected onto a sofa cushion in the living room. One victim, a 71-year old gentlemen who was pretty much confined to the sofa and on home oxygen therapy, was found deceased in the area of origin. The other victim, a 70-year old woman was found unconscious on the sofa by firefighters. Rescuers performed CPR and advanced life saving techniques, however, they were unable to revive the victim and she, like the male, died of smoke inhalation.
Oregon- A 70-year old woman died of smoke inhalation after a cigarette she was smoking ignited her oxygen tubing while on home oxygen therapy. The victim was discovered unresponsive and face down on the living room floor by her husband who had just arrived home at 10:25 p.m. It was reported that the single-wide mobile home did have a battery-operated smoke detector, but the fire was to small to activate it.
Investigators hypothesized that the victim ignited the plastic nasal canula that was feeding her oxygen while lighting a cigarette; burn injuries discovered around the deceased's mouth and nose confirm this theory. Additionally, investigators found the canula in the kitchen sink which they surmise was pulled off by the victim in an attempt to put the fire out. Sadly, lethal toxicants from the burning plastic had already done so much damage that the victim, already suffering from lung disease, could not survive the ordeal.
GREAT-GRANDMOTHER SAVES TWO CHILDREN FROM HOUSE FIRE
North Carolina- An 83-year old great-grandmother saved two children from a fire in a single-family home, but not before one other child died and the woman rescuer being transported to the hospital with burns suffered during the rescue.
The fire originated in the living room of the single-family home which in addition to the obvious household furnishings also contained a Christmas tree , kerosene heater, and two-5-gallon (18-liter) containers of fuel. The cause of the fire has been classified as "undetermined", however, investigators did note that the fuel contributed to the rapid spread of fire in this incident.
The FBI just held a press conference releasing photographs of two individuals wanted for questioning in the recent Boston Marathon bombings. Click on the tab "FBI Most Wanted" to the right or go to www.fbi.gov/
If you recognize either of these individuals, call the FBI tip line at: 1-800-CALL-FBI
This story is taken from the bi-monthly magazine NFPA Journal, January/February Edition-2013, and was written by staff writer Kathleen Robinson who is a regular contributer to the column 'Looking Back'.
"I'LL BE BACK"
Those words, spoken like a line out of the movie Terminator, was the threat made good by a disgruntled customer who sparked one the most deadliest intentionally set nightclub blazes in U.S history. Kathleen Robinson tells the story like this:
In the wee hours hours of March 25, 1990, the club, located in the East Tremont section of the Bronx in New York City, was packed with young Honduran immigrants celebrating Carnival. Gonzalez, a 36-year-old unemployed Cuban refugee, was ejected from the club after a fight with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano. Gonzalez found a plastic container and filled it with $1 worth of gasoline at a nearby gas station. He returned to the club, poured the gas on the floor of the club's only open entrance, threw in some lit matches, and left. He later returned and watched as firefighters battled the ensuing blaze, according to The New York Times.
The Times reported that the club had been shut down by inspectors because it was a "firetrap," in the blunt assessment of Charles Smith, Jr., the city's buildings commissioner. Officials said the club had no sprinklers, fire exits, emergency lights, or exit signs, and that it reopened illegally. After entering the front door, patrons went down a narrow hallway past a ticket window and coat check, then into a small room with a dance floor and a bar. Stairs at the back of the first floor led to another dance floor and a bar on the floor above, where most of the patrons had congregated.
After Gonzalez dropped his matches, flames spread quickly from the entrance through the first floor and up the stairs. The club filled with smoke, asphyxiating victims "so rapidly that they were found with drinks in their hands," according to The Times. A firefighter who responded to the blaze was quoted as saying that some of the victims "looked like they were sleeping." Others, he said, looked like they were in shock. "There were some people holding hands. There were some people who looked like they were trying to commiserate and hug each other."
Many fell where they were, piling up on the dance floor, while others tried to reach the exit. Firefighters found 68 bodies upstairs and 19 on the stairs or ground floor. Only five people managed to escape. One of them was Lydia Feliciano.
On November 15, 1990, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson ruled that the building's three landlords were not criminally responsible for the fire, noting that criminal liability probably rested with Elias Colon, the owner and operator of the club, who died in the fire. Two months later, however, New York City Mayor David Dinkins filed misdemeanor charges against the other two landlords. Both eventually pleaded guilty "to failing to install a proper sprinkler system and to illegally converting the premises into a two-story social club," even though they "contended that they were not guilty because they were unaware the building had been converted," according to The New York Times.
Gonzalez was arrested, charged, and convicted on 87 counts of murder, 87 counts of arson, and assault in August 1991. He was sentenced to 25 years to life on each count, and is eligible for parole in 2015.