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Campus Life

Avoidable Tragedy

BU officials troubled by careless fires


“We want to get a message out to students, faculty, and staff to be more aware, so we can avoid a tragedy,” says BUPD Chief Thomas Robbins, responding to recent fires in student housing. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

One of the fires started when clothes draped over a lamp began to smolder. Another was sparked when students forgot to turn off their oven before heading out on a Friday night. A third began in a clothes dryer with an overfull lint screen.

But according to Boston University Police Chief Thomas Robbins, all three fires, which occurred in BU student housing this academic year, were actually caused by carelessness.

“I’m seeing something with these fires, and we’re asking people to be more aware, to pay attention, and to be more careful,” says Robbins. “The main thing is that we want to avoid a tragedy.”

Robbins and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore will host a University town hall meeting addressing fire safety and other campus safety issues on Tuesday, February 10, at 6 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium.

According to BUPD statistics, first responders answer about 300 fire calls in and around campus every year. While about 90 percent of these are false alarms or alarm malfunctions, that still leaves a lot of real, and dangerous, incidents.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in these most recent fires. But a couple of years ago, two BU students were killed and a third critically injured when fire, caused by a candle burning in a bedroom, gutted an off-campus apartment on Aberdeen Street. Just three weeks later, a charcoal grill left smoldering overnight on the porch of another off-campus apartment housing BU students started a four-alarm fire that took the life of a visiting student from Pennsylvania. The two deadly fires led BU public safety officials to step up their fire-prevention education efforts, including creating a fire safety Web site and putting on a demonstration of a mock dorm room going up in flames during the following fall’s Safety Week to show how quickly fire can spread.

“Anytime we can take the opportunity to think about our personal safety, it is important to do so,” Elmore says. “Fire safety is particularly important, because it is an aspect we tend to overlook. We should think about situations in our homes and in buildings with groups of people, and be mindful.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

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