Staff editorial: Up in smoke

A Munson Hall oven caught fire and filled the building with smoke Wednesday. In light of the January Seton Hall fire that was responsible for three deaths, GW students and the University must be vigilant in preventing a similarly catastrophic fire at GW.

While GW is not unique in providing kitchens to its students, there is a considerable and dangerous risk from exposing many students for the first time to potentially dangerous appliances. Students should have their own kitchens, but they must work to avoid sparking a fire through negligence. Solutions are simple. Students should check the oven before turning it on to make sure that nothing flammable is inside.

But larger fire safety issues exist beyond this and similar cases of carelessness. Perhaps the University should consider removing gas appliances from the residence halls. Gas ovens and stoves pose a potentially greater risk of fire than electric appliances because gas-fueled devices use an open flame to cook. Another potential problem is windows that are painted shut. Students would have difficulty escaping smoke-filled rooms if windows do not open. Also, flammable materials left on or near a hot radiator could touch off a fire.

Updating appliances in residence halls and installing central heating in older buildings, while most likely the wisest course of action, would be extremely expensive and time consuming. In the interim, students must accept that there are risks of fire within their rooms and work to minimize those risks.

Minimizing risk means evacuating buildings when fire alarms go off, not tampering with smoke detectors, exercising extreme care when using kitchen appliances and keeping kitchens and areas near radiators clean and free of flammable materials.

A fire in a residence hall can be deadly. It can also destroy student and University property. The it won’t happen here attitude toward a major residence hall fire many GW students obviously share is seriously flawed. It did happen here; in 1979 a fire tore through Thurston Hall’s fifth floor injuring 34 people, three seriously. Unless students are vigilant, it could happen again.

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