New York, NY – Overnight fire in college residence hall extinguished by sprinkler system; Fire started in trash compactor room

At around 12:30 am last Monday night, or early Tuesday morning, a fire broke out at The Towers at CCNY, forcing all of its residents to evacuate. This event marks the second major incident this year involving the activation of the sprinkler system.

The blaring alarm woke many of the residents, who rushed to evacuate the building. Among them was Resident Assistant William Dadario. After waking up and seeing his fellow RAs post photos of flooding from the sprinklers in their group chat, he knew it was not just a drill.

He said in a brief interview, “Usually, if you get the alarm you don’t always get the [sprinkler] suppression system, just because the suppression system is only triggered when flames actually are licking the sprinkler heads themselves. So I knew it was probably something serious.

Dadario and other residents reported seeing and smelling smoke coming from the trash chutes on the first floor. The fire appears to have originated in the compactor room, though the cause is still officially unknown.

The sprinkler system was able to extinguish the fire before it could spread, though some areas, including student’s rooms, near the area flooded in the process. Luckily, the sprinklers in the trash rooms are independent of the rest of the system for this very purpose. This specialization meant there was significantly less damage than the incident in October, where sprinkler systems were triggered in several rooms.

Meanwhile, the crowd of residents outside was growing cold and restless. In the rush to evacuate, many were unable to put on clothes appropriate for the freezing weather. Some had nothing more than light pajamas. Others were in flip-flops, lacking socks to protect themselves against the cold.

Public Safety directed everyone to take refuge in the cafés of the research buildings, anticipating a long wait for the fire department and RAs to handle the situation inside. After some time, those residents were falsely told that the doors were open and they could return to their rooms. The crowd then gathered just outside the doors until they were allowed in, nearly an hour after the evacuation began.

Inside the building, the elevators were out of order and residents took the stairs to their rooms in the 10-story dormitory. Eventually, the majority of residents were back in their rooms, and the RA team was helping those who were locked out. The bulk of the crisis was over for the night, while worries linger for those impacted by the flooding.

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