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Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Arson incidents on campus

Fire and police vehicles congregated on East Street outside Loose Hall in the early morning hours of March 10 in response to a fire alarm caused by a fire in Loose Third kitchen. Photo by John Brady.

Multiple arson incidents on Grinnell’s campus over the last month have led to ongoing investigations conducted by Grinnell College Campus Safety and Security in conjunction with the Grinnell Fire Department and the Grinnell Police Department to discover the individuals responsible.

Most recently, on the night of Tuesday, April 8, an incident of arson was reported in the entryway to Cleveland residence hall. According to a cluster-wide email sent by Jamaland Residence Life Coordinator Autumn Wilke, there were several burn marks on the ceiling which “likely took a few minutes to make.” The Grinnell Fire Department is currently investigating the acts of arson on campus.

Fire and police vehicles congregated on East Street outside Loose Hall in the early morning hours of March 10 in response to a fire alarm caused by a fire in Loose Third kitchen. Photo by John Brady.
Fire and police vehicles congregated on East Street outside Loose Hall in the early morning hours of March 10 in response to a fire alarm caused by a fire in Loose Third kitchen.
Photo by John Brady.

Fire incidents can potentially become very serious as fires can spread incredibly quickly in old buildings.

During the early morning hours of Sunday, April 6, someone set fire to the door decorations of two residential hall rooms in Cowles Hall, while the residents were still inside the room.

One of the residents of the two rooms, Julia Broeker ’17, was sitting in her room when she smelled something burning outside. She had not heard any noises from her hall prior to the incident. Broeker said she believes that there was no malicious intention behind the fire incident.

“Honestly I think that someone who was drunk happened to think it would be amusing to light papers on fire,” Broeker said. “I don’t think there was any intent behind it, but who’s to say.”

Evan Porter ’17, a resident of the other room affected by the fire incident, noticed something smoldering from under his door.

“I was in my room at the time,” Porter said. “[At] first I thought there was smoke outside, until I realized there was smoke in my room. I saw there was little bit of fire underneath my door, and I put it out.”

There has been no individual found responsible for the arson incidents over the weekend, although Porter noted that he heard an individual was seen right outside his door a few minutes prior to the incident.

“I didn’t see the person,” Porter said. “There was someone who saw someone standing suspiciously next to my door, leaning up against the door frame … and this was less than five minutes before the incident actually happened. We don’t know exactly who it is.”

Both students expressed confidence that the fire incident was rather minor and easily contained.

“Historically, there have always been a case or two of people lighting flyers on fire in the loggia year to year,” said Dean of Students Travis Greene.

However with the trend in arson incidents, Security is increasing their efforts to find the individuals responsible.

“[If] anyone is found responsible … definitely conduct charges will be filed and their ability to remain enrolled is at risk,” Greene said.

In an email to the S&B, Director of Security Stephen Briscoe wrote, “Our investigation is continuing concerning the previous fires and the ones over the weekend. Fire is dangerous and we would really like to get this stopped before further harm happens. We would appreciate any help the campus could give us concerning these incidents.”

Fire incidents in Grinnell are taken very seriously, and every report of a fire is investigated by both Security and the Grinnell Fire Department.

Representatives from the Grinnell Fire Department were unavailable to comment at the time this article was published.

“Anytime we get a notice about a fire, whether it be through RLCs or students, we need to contact Security, who is required to contact the fire department, just so there can be [an] investigation … [to] determine a causal origin and comply with policies and laws that need to be complied with,” explained Loosehead RLC Gabriel Barela.

Barela also noted that there have been more fire incidents this semester than last semester. However, the lack of student response to the fire alarms is a common issue that typically happens when fire alarms go off.

Loose Third Student Adviser Becca Heller ’16 agreed that students often remain in their rooms despite the fire alarms. On March 10, Heller’s floor experienced a kitchen fire and many students were unaware that there was an incident occurring.

“[Students are] expected to leave the room and expected to respond, but obviously, it’s not followed very well,” Heller said.

In a campus-wide email following the Cowles fire incident, Briscoe wrote, “For your safety and the safety of others, please heed the alarm and leave any time it sounds. If you stay and a real fire spreads, you not only endanger yourself, but the safety personnel who would have to attempt to save you from a burning building.”

Read Pit and First SA Emma Lange ’16 remembers an incident when students brushed off a fire alarm when there was in fact a potential for legitimate danger.

“[I remember once] there was a fire alarm at 1 a.m., and then later there was another one at 3 a.m.,” Lange said. “Because the first one was just popcorn in Loose or something people were like ‘whatever’ and went back to bed.”

“When the second one went off a couple hours later, people didn’t really think about it,” she said. “That was actually concerning because there was an actual fire in the computer lab of Read First. What my understanding of it was, some student was setting the sanitary paper bags from the bathrooms on fire.”

Lange is especially troubled by the intentional nature of the recent incidents.

“It’s been concerning that these haven’t been accidental things, so people should be learning that these can be serious fire concerns,” she said.

Greene hopes that students will practice self-governance and look after themselves when future fire alarms go off.

“Every time the fire alarm goes off, we ask that students participate and follow the direction of the person leading the fire alarm,” he said.

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