Both fires in Fulbright Hall this academic year were caused by students throwing cigarettes in trash cans, a University official said.
Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said in an email that the fires in Fulbright Hall, which was built almost 70 years ago, were from students “carelessly” throwing cigarettes into trash cans in the room against University policy. The trash and papers inside the trash cans caught on fire from the cigarettes.
D.C. Fire and EMS and the Metropolitan Police Department responded to a fire on the fifth floor of Fulbright Hall earlier this month, which officials said was contained to the one room where the fire began. There was a also a fire on the building’s roof in September. Investigators did not immediately determine the cause of the fire in September.
Darnell said the age of the building “was not a factor in the fire” earlier this month.
“The fire safety equipment the University has in place was utilized in both instances to quickly suppress the fires and notify building occupants of a safety hazard so that the residents could quickly evacuate,” Darnell said.
Darnell said GW residence halls all have fire prevention and suppression equipment installed and test the equipment annually, regardless of the age of the building. He added that all of GW’s multilevel residence halls are made of stone or brick instead of wood, so the buildings are more fire resistant than some traditional buildings.
He said the fire alarm systems are constantly monitored by the University Police Department and GW’s Office of Safety and Security and that most GW residence halls have sprinklers in residents’ individual rooms and in common hallways and lobbies.
Darnell said students can learn about fire safety on floor meetings and through the annual GW Safety and Security Expo every fall. GW also posts safety information on the Emergency Response Handbook and other online resources.
Darnell also likened the “Smokey the Bear” fire education campaign’s slogan, “Only you can stop wildfires,” to how students can prevent fires in residence halls by practicing safe habits.
“This education campaign is a good reminder that we all need to be mindful of our surroundings and students should be mindful of their actions, as they are the ones that can prevent accidental fires in their home away from home,” Darnell said.
When a fire alarm is pulled in a residence hall, officers in the University Police Department respond and confirm that the alarm signifies an actual emergency before calling in MPD and D.C. Fire and EMS, who become the lead agencies on the incident. In some cases, the officers knock on doors and otherwise help students out of the building while it is being evacuated.