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Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2002

Fire alarm holdup confuses students

February 23, 2002

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Chris Maute figures if 800 students are going to be locked out of McCollum Residence Hall in 20-degree weather for more than two hours in the middle of the night, the least they deserve is an explanation.

But he said students were left wondering after the Kansas University dorm's fire alarm sounded early Friday. Police even called for backup, he said, when students began demanding they be allowed to re-enter.

"They didn't even tell us why," said Maute, a freshman. "They didn't tell us why we couldn't go in. They left us out there for 2 1/2 hours."

McCollum's fire alarm sounded at 2 a.m. Friday when a cigarette butt left in a fourth-floor trash can started a small fire. The fire was extinguished by a McCollum employee, KU officials said.

But students weren't allowed to re-enter the building until about 4:30 a.m.

KU spokesman Todd Cohen said students aren't allowed in a building after an alarm until it is cleared by the fire department. Housing officials still were waiting Friday to hear why the process took so long.

Fire Marshal Rich Barr and Deputy Chief Mark Bradford did not return calls from the Journal-World.

"It's extremely unusual for it to be this long," Cohen said. "We don't know why it took so long."

Some students stayed in the lobby of Ellsworth Hall, which is next door, while others passed the time in their cars.

Chris Turgeon, a freshman McCollum resident, said around 4:15 a.m. officials indicated students would be allowed to re-enter, so they began lining up at the front entrance. Then, he said, officials decided students would have to wait longer.

The students began pushing to get in, and the one KU Public Safety officer who had responded to the fire alarm called for backup. Three KU officers and six Lawrence Police officers responded.

"It was a ridiculous incident," Turgeon said. "They wouldn't tell us what was going on. They made us into a mob, locking us outside our own building."

He said housing officials took several students' IDs for allegedly causing the disturbance near the entrance.

"We had nowhere to go," he said. "There were hundreds of kids pushing us forward."

Lt. Schuyler Bailey of the KU Public Safety Office said no students were arrested or injured in the incident.

"The officers said (the students) were upset, and they were antsy to get back in," Bailey said.

Freshman Megan Moss, who left at 3:30 a.m. to spend the rest of the night at a friend's house, said she was growing tired of the fire alarms. Bailey said officials responded to 30 alarms at McCollum during 2001.

"Even the false ones they make you stay a long time," Moss said. "It's just a big hassle."

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