Scared Straight: Fire in dorm

Residents of Straight Hall were surprised with what they thought to be a routine fire drill on Sunday, Nov. 14 at about 8:45 p.m.

But ironically, the first fire drill of the year was the real thing. The dumpster behind the back door of the dormitory was on fire. Luckily, freshmen residence assistant Brian Davis, who first saw the fire, immediately pulled the fire alarm and notified the residents to get out. Since there has not been a fire drill this year, some of the residents were unsure of the fire drill procedure.

"I thought that someone was playing, as usual, and pulled the fire alarm," William Meeks, Straight Hall resident, said. Raye Jackson, who was watching TV in the lounge at the time, had no idea what was going on until he smelled the smoke coming from outside. "I did not even know what that noise was at first."

Before the firefighters came, students gathered at the back of the building and tried to put out the fire themselves. Standing on the balcony of the second floor while pouring water down on the dumpster was all the students could do.

Davis and Monte Richardson, a sophomore, both said none of the four fire extinguishers in Straight Hall worked properly, so they had to go to Williams to borrow one.

"We shouldn’t have to go to Williams and get a fire extinguisher, when we have four sitting right here," Richardson said. Davis also pointed out that the extinguishers were not working because they were too old and have not been used in a while; "This fire extinguisher is from April 1993," Davis said.

Once firefighters arrived on the scene, students stepped aside and let the professionals handle the situation. The New Orleans Fire Department was a little surprised to find that the fire was only in the one trashcan and not in the building. After extinguishing the fire, they then evacuated the building—not letting anyone back inside until it was fully searched. After about 30 minutes, the firefighters allowed the residents to go back inside the building.

Although the origin of fire was unknown, there have been some speculations on how it got started. Lt. Jackson of Dillard University Police Department was on the site and believes that the fire was an act of arson.

"I think that one of those guys did that on purpose," Lt. Jackson said. He expressed how some of the students were not taking the matter seriously, even after the alarm sounded. "Anytime you hear a fire alarm, whether it is real or not, you need to immediately stop what you are doing and leave the building," he said. Addressing the safety issue of fumes from the fire, Lt. Jackson noted that fire extinguishers should have been checked and updated for use during an emergency.

"I think that someone was smoking and tried to throw their joint in the trash can," Hakim Jaliwa, a freshman said. Jaliwa also said that the theory of someone smoking is the only valid explanation to the cause of the fire. He believes that the students who live in Straight Hall will have many of their privileges taken away because of this unfortunate incident.