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OMAC fire causes damage, injury

Melting fluorescent light causes locker room fire as smoke detectors fail to trigger alarms, sprinklers

An electrical fire broke out in the men’s track and field locker room at the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center Thursday morning, destroying runners’ personal belongings and injuring one student.

Just after 7 a.m., several runners were preparing for a morning run when they noticed a “weird smell” in the room, said Dan McDonald Meteer ’17. Drops of burning plastic then began to drip from the ceiling as a fluorescent light fixture began to burn.

“We looked up and the ceiling light was melting,” said Luke Muzikowski ’17.

Ben Halpin ’15, who walked in shortly after the light ignited, described seeing “a flame coming out of it.”

One droplet landed on Muzikowski, who said it was “still aflame” when it fell on him. He suffered a minor burn and brought it to Health Services.

“Luckily it wasn’t serious,” he said. “It could have very easily been much worse.”

As the light continued to burn, drops fell at a greater rate onto the carpet, which then caught fire. Muzikowski said the runners could not find a fire extinguisher, and he was forced to use a water bottle in an attempt to put out the growing flames. But the fire spread to the bags of laundry hanging on the closely packed lockers, and it jumped quickly from bag to bag.

Flames spread across multiple lockers, but no smoke alarms or sprinklers were activated. McDonald Meteer said he could not find a manual fire alarm to pull in the locker room and went to search outside the room to find one.

“The room was essentially ablaze by the time that I went outside of the locker room and had to pull the fire alarm out there,” McDonald Meteer said. Even when he pulled the manual alarm, the system only triggered an auditory alarm and did not turn on the sprinklers.

Muzikowski said flames were “engulfing” the room, but the smoke alarm did not go off. “Everything was burning,” he said. “I feel like that should have triggered it.”

After McDonald Meteer pulled the manual alarm, the building was evacuated. In the meantime, one of the athletes alerted the front desk about the fire, and they called the fire department, which arrived shortly thereafter, he said.

The blaze affected roughly 20 lockers, said track captain Henry Tufnell ’15. About 10 were unsalvageable, including that of Muzikowski, who said the contents of his locker were “incinerated.”

Tufnell called the locker room “an accident waiting to happen.” The team has over 60 members who all share one room, and a lack of space forced runners to keep equipment on top of their lockers. Muzikowski said the closeness of the lockers contributed to the spread of the flames.

Tufnell also expressed concern that there was no fire extinguisher in the room and that the smoke detectors and sprinklers failed to function. “If a fire breaks out, the least they could do is put it out before it destroys lockers and clothes,” he said.

“If we weren’t in there, that would have completely destroyed” the entire team’s equipment, Muzikowski said. “The fire safety needs to be improved.”

Halpin said those whose belongings were lost in the fire are assembling a list of the possessions lost in the hope that the University will provide compensation. Administrators could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

OMAC equipment room staff members helped wash all clothes that smelled of smoke and replaced school-issued clothing that had been lost in the fire, while track coaches helped move the team into an upstairs visitors’ locker room.

The runners are now packed two to a locker in their temporary space, and many are still unclear on the status of their belongings, Muzikowski said.

“A lot of stuff is still chaotic,” Muzikowski said, adding that the athletes are uncertain what action the University will take in the coming weeks.


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