Elder fire frightens students, raises dorm safety concerns

When Tatiana Schnurr heard an alarm Wednesday morning, she thought it was her alarm clock.

But when she tried to shut it off and nothing happened, she knew something was wrong.

A smoke detector, not the alarm clock, had roused her and roommate Jennifer Toh. The detector had been triggered by a fire in Schnurr’s bed in her first floor room at Elder Hall.

“I felt the heat on my head,” said Schnurr, a Weinberg freshman. “When I lifted off my pillow, the whole room was filled with gray.”

A clip-on reading lamp fell off Schnurr’s desk onto her bed and started the fire, said Lt. Richard Stampanato of the University Police.

The Evanston Fire and Life Safety Services received a call from UP at about 5:20 a.m., removed the mattress from the dorm room and extinguished the fire, Division Chief Alan Berkowsky said.

Despite the sound of the smoke detectors, some Elder residents — including Schnurr and Toh’s next door neighbors — did not know there was a fire until hours later, Toh said. Weinberg freshman Amy Rozum, who slept through the fire, said smoke detectors are barely audible when dorm room doors are closed.

“We didn’t find out about (the fire) until lunch,” Rozum said. “We had our window open and we didn’t hear any fire trucks or anyone outside. It’s kind of sad.”

Schnurr said the dorm’s alarm system should be improved. She said louder room alarms, more fire extinguishers and a better escape plan were necessary to make the dorm safer.

“We need a more structured plan of action,” Schnurr said. “I didn’t know where the fire extinguisher was. It took a disaster for me to find out where one was.”

The incident’s resemblance to a January fire at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, scared her, she said. The Seton Hall fire started in a dorm room and killed three students.

Schnurr, who suffered a small burn to her right arm, said the fire made her feel uncomfortable sleeping in her own bed.

“If we had been in the room longer, there could have been serious damage,” she said. “I’m going to a friend’s house. I’m not sleeping in here tonight.”