When the fire alarm went off after midnight on Friday, January 21, in Max Palevsky Central and everyone proceeded to evacuate the building, the students living on the first floor of Flint House did not anticipate what they would return to upon re-entering the dorm approximately one hour later.
Pajama-clad students standing on the snowy sidewalk outside of the dorm circulated rumors about what had happened, but no rumor could adequately describe what they were to find: About three-quarters of the first floor, rooms included, were soaked by several inches of standing water.
The incident was caused by a student living on the first floor accidentally engaging a sprinkler head in his bathroom, which is part of the building's fire suppression system. Because the sprinkler system is designed to put out potential fires, a tremendous amount of water rushed into the hall in a few minutes. The Chicago Fire Department, which arrived soon after, determined that there was not a fire, and the system was turned off.
Once students were allowed to re-enter the dorm, residents of the flooded hall met for an emergency meeting with their resident heads, Craig and Ser Jackson, and Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of Students in the University and director of Undergraduate Student Housing, in the second floor house lounge. Callow-Wright explained that members of the Fire Department were trying to soak up as much of the water as possible, so that students would be able to head back to their rooms to collect as many of their drenched belongings as they could, in order to place them in large plastic storage bins. These bins, said Callow-Wright, were going to be kept in the basement of Max Central where students' possessions would dry faster than if left in the soaked rooms.
Ultimately, the water affected five student suites. The degree to which the water damaged students' personal belongings varied from room to room. Damage to the building itself was minimal, other than in the room where the sprinkler was activated, Callow-Wright reported. "Some evaluation is still being done, so we won't know what the total cost and scope of repairs will be until later this week," she said. Students have been advised to contact their families' home insurance provider or their renters insurance company to inquire about damage to personal belongings.
Huge blower fans were placed throughout the hall, as well as inside the damaged suites in the early morning hours on Friday in order to dry the carpet and minimize water damage. The fans remained on throughout the weekend and, as of yesterday, were still quite noisily blowing away.
Students in affected rooms were offered alternate places in which to stay for the weekend, but most elected to stay with friends, especially friends on the second floor of Flint. According to Callow-Wright, the members of Flint House have been incredibly supportive of and helpful to their friends in the affected suites. "Immediately after the incident there was a small army of people down on the first floor helping get storage containers and carts from the basement, packing them up, moving them back down to the basement, moving people's belongings off of the floor, getting rid of trash, and most of all providing moral support," Callow-Wright said.
Students in the water-damaged rooms definitely feel this support that has come from their housemates. "Everyone's been really helpful and really accommodating, which is nice since basically the whole house has been shoved into one floor," said Anna Maccourt, a first-year living in the suite next door to the one from which the water flowed.
While Maccourt expressed great thanks towards her housemates, her sentiments towards the University's response to the incident were not as positive: "All the University has done is stuck large pieces of machinery in my room," she said. "It isn't the University's fault that we lost any of our stuff, but it is their fault that they didn't let us go back into the hall immediately after they realized that there was no fire to try to save some of our stuff."
Other students, such as first-year Vicky Liu, are content with what the University has done to help them out. "They've given me information, a break in schoolwork, free pizza, and pity," Liu said.
Currently, the water-damaged rooms are dry yet unlivable due to a cesspool-like stench. "You can go into our rooms, but you can't stay there for very long," said Maccourt. "The smell is completely intolerable."
Once the smell dissipates and necessary repairs are made, students will be able to move back into their rooms and return to their normal routines.