Students of Race Street Hall were evacuated from the building around 1:30 a.m. Feb. 23 due to a sprinkler activation on the sixth floor. Floors 2 through 6 have experienced extensive water damage, and students residing on those floors have been temporarily displaced.
When the fire alarm was activated, Drexel Residential Living and Public Safety staff worked with students to exit the building per standard fire procedures. Public Safety and the Philadelphia Fire Department responded immediately and determined that, for safety reasons, residents would not be permitted into the building for an extended, but temporary, amount of time.
Lobbies and common areas of Kelly, Myers and North halls were immediately offered as shelter until University Housing and Residential Living worked with campus partners to relocate students. Resident assistants staffed the areas and encouraged students to stay with friends for the night if possible. Chris Heasley, executive director of University Housing, said the Residential Living Office and University Housing coordinated placements of displaced students with vacancies of other halls within an hour and sent notice to residents shortly thereafter.
While residents of Race Street were encouraged to stay with friends if possible and notice was sent to on-campus residents, no notification was sent to students living off campus. Heasley explained that because there was no immediate or ongoing threat, Universitywide communication was unnecessary. Jeremy Lenhart, a junior business and engineering student whose younger brother is a freshman living on campus in Van Rensselaer Hall, said, “I would want to know something like that, especially since I’m older and live off campus. If he needed something or was hurt, I wouldn’t have even known.”
It is unclear what triggered the activation of the sprinkler on the sixth floor. Heasley and Subir Sahu, assistant dean of Residential Living, wrote in an email to campus residents Feb. 23, “A fire occurred in Race Street Hall, causing fire sprinkler systems to activate. There were no injuries, and all fire suppression systems operated correctly.”
Public Safety released an announcement that had stated a defective sprinkler had been set off, with no indication of a fire. Heasley has since confirmed, “A single sprinkler activated the fire alarm. There is no evidence that a fire or heat source is related to the activation of the sprinkler. There is also no evidence of any defect in a sprinkler head.” The Public Safety has since removed this announcement from its website.
After the flood, 205 residents and five RAs were relocated to vacancies in other residence halls. “Between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, Race Street residents were allowed 15 to 30 minutes to enter their rooms and gather enough belongings for one week,” Heasley said.
According to Heasley, University Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, and contracted vendors evaluated the cause of the sprinkler activation and determined the extent of the damage earlier this week. Some, but not all, of the displaced students were notified in an email from University Housing Feb. 28 that they would be able to move back into their rooms March 2.
Tri Dinh, a freshman engineering major, was visiting a neighboring school during the time of the evacuation. While his section of the sixth floor did not sustain direct water or property damage, he and neighbors have not been permitted back onto their floor for other safety reasons. While Dinh said that all staff and students have been patient and understanding, he said, “It’s inconvenient to go back and get things because I can only go with an RA for certain times, and sometimes I have class.”
Mary Rant, a third-year physical therapy student, said that her room was initially overbooked. Rant, who lives in North Hall and had vacancy in her room, received an email with the names of two girls who would be moving into her suite, but the email didn’t specify a timeframe. Rant said that another resident whose name was not on the initial email was also given a key to the suite. The issue has since been resolved, but not without confusion. Rant then emailed her resident director. “She [the resident director] said her name wasn’t even in the system and she shouldn’t have been given a key,” Rant said.
A freshman international area studies major sustained a concussion while exiting the building. The resident, who has had three concussions in the past, was woken up by the alarm when her room began to flood. Upon exiting, she says she slipped on a puddle, fell onto her back, hit her head and blacked out for a short time. She exited the building and sought shelter in another residence hall, where she began to feel nauseous. Public Safety drove the resident to the emergency room, and she was kept overnight.
“I was examined. My back, shoulder and head hurt, but I was just prescribed Tylenol and kept overnight, where I fell in and out of sleep,” the resident said. The resident has missed classes as a result but said that most professors have been understanding.
“I’m not going to complain because it could be a lot worse. I’m just trying to deal with catching up.”
This particular resident did not experience severe personal property damage but said that some others did.
“I was lucky because my clothes were wet, and my parents were there the next day, so we took everything that was wet out of my room. But some people that weren’t able to do that — the construction workers are just moving everything to the middle of the room and putting a tarp over it for the duration of the construction. So if anything’s wet in there, they’re going to have to throw it out.”
Heasley said that students are encouraged to purchase renter’s insurance when they apply to live in the residence halls. He assures that students can meet with Residential Living or University Housing staff if there are concerns about their belongings.
Heasley said that Residential Living and University Housing staff will continue to work with individual students and provide support and updates.