Asst. News Editor
Around 3:00 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2022, a fire raged through Sycamore Park in Whittier, destroying two houses, damaging four homes, and harming several acres of land. The fire grew to this immensity due to “[…]Santa Ana winds and high temperatures amid an increasingly common winter dry spell.” Whittier Police Department have arrested Whittier resident Kevin Whitlock on six counts of arson. He was found in the canyon near the fire, with severe burns on his body. He has been transported to a local hospital, and is in stable condition. The motive is still unknown. Brush fires, wildfires, and counts for arson are not uncommon for Southern California residents. And Whittier College understands this. So, in order to effectively handle a situation in which a fire of any capacity should occur either on campus or off.
Whittier College puts out at the end of every year an “Annual Security & Fire Safety Report.” This booklet goes over in extensive detail the sort of procedures that the College has in place to handle any sort of crime, incident, or (in the case of what is being discussed) fire, with the ultimate goal of preventing these incidents from occurring. There is also statistics and data that account the amount of misdemeanors that happen during that year. This is all in compliance with the Clery Act which “[…] requires colleges and universities to have emergency notification and evacuation procedures, issue timely warnings, maintain a crime and fire log, collect crime reports from Campus Security Authorities, request crime statistics from local law enforcement, submit crime and fire statistics to the Department of Education, have a missing student notification procedure, and publish an annual security and fire safety report.” The Clery Act also accompanies the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, which “[…] requires colleges and universities that have on-campus housing to report and submit fires safety information and statistics, annually.” This also is to publish the protocol in the case of a fire, alongside with the datas of fire that may have happened on the College campus for the past three years. This report is from 2020, and still has data from the previous years to look back at. The document is put together in collaboration with Safety and Compliance Coordination, Campus Police, Resident Life, Human Resources, and the Dean of Students, with data collected by the Whittier Police Department.
The College routinely puts on fire drills twice a year in residence halls. Due to the notion that dorms consistently change from semester to semester, the Department of Campus Safety in coordination with Resident Life have a set list of guidelines that the fire drill will go over in order to maintain proper safety in the event of an actual fire. Dorm residents will evacuate to an appropriate “evacuation zone” that they will need to be familiarized with based on the student’s dorm location in the case of an emergency. The agenda in which the fire drills include are “ Introduction of Community Advisor (CA) and/or Campus Safety Officers, explain it is a fire drill – required (occurs only once each semester), explain policy for failing to evacuate during fire alarm, highlight evacuation zone for that building, remind Campus Safety’s number, remind they do not re-enter building after alarm without staff approval.”
Whittier College lays out what they will do in the case of an actual fire. If a fire of any capacity happens on campus that the individual is near, they must pull the nearest fire alarm and then promptly exit the building. Whilst exiting, “[…] remember to feel doors before opening them to be sure that there is no fire danger on the other side. If you notice smoke, use an alternate escape route. If you must enter a smoke-filled room or hallway, stay low, keeping one hand on the wall to avoid disorientation and crawl to the nearest exit, keeping your head near the floor.” Since a fire will disturb the elevator system in the building (possibly leaving people trapped inside the elevator), the individuals will need to leave through the stairwell to the emergency exit. In the event that you are trapped in the building that is on fire, some steps should be taken to ensure your safety. Firstly, shut all doors in order to separate yourself from the fire, and shove towels under the door crack in order to keep the smoke out. Then, go to your nearest window, and wave a white sheet, in order to beckon for help.
Each building has its own set of evacuation protocols to adhere to in the case of an emergency. In that situation, all residential students will be given instructions from either their Resident Advisor (RA), the Assistant Director, or any other residential staff. When you are asked to evacuate the building, there is a predetermined meeting area in one of four “campus zones” that you will be instructed to go to. These zones are the Purple Zone that spans from Harris Amphitheater to the Graham Soccer Field; The Blue Zone which spans from Platner Hall to the Science and Learning Center (SLC); The Red Zone which spans from the Shannon Center to the Philadelphia House; and the Yellow Zone that goes from Weingart Hall to Kaplan. If you happen to be somewhere else on campus during the time of these evacuation orders, you will still have to go to your specific zone. Once you are in your designated place, you will need to report to your Building Captain (and you will not be able to leave until you do!), and to leave your contact information with them if you leave campus during an emergency.
Events like emergencies are extremely stressful for everyone involved, and require a level of discipline and seriousness when handling them. That is why it is crucial to “ALWAYS treat every alarm as an emergency and exit the building immediately if an alarm sounds”, and to leave the building in a calm, and safe manner, utilizing the shortest routes possible. And remember to “never return to a building until told to do so by a Whittier College Campus Safety Officer or other College official.” If you see a fire, no matter the size, always report it to the Department of Campus Safety at 562.907.4211.
In the handling of fire safety on the Whittier College campus, all the dorms are equipped with fire alarm systems and smoke detectors. But some dorms do not have fire sprinkler systems, including Campbell Hall, Johnson Hall, and (being unknown) Turner Hall. Ball Hall, Stauffer Hall, and Wanberg Hall have sprinkler systems in the basements only. There are pull stations, “[…] manually activated components of a fire alarm system. Usually a red box mounted on a wall, these stations are clearly labeled with instructions on how to use them,” in all the dorm halls; and each hall has fire drills conducted twice a year per regulation.
There are a distinct set of rules in regards to fire safety policy that help outline the seriousness involved with fires on campus, plus telling the student body what is both allowed and not allowed on in the dorms due to them being a fire hazard. Firstly, all forms of starting fires or meddling with fire safety equipment in any way, or not exiting a building when there is an emergency is a “[…] violation of the state fire code”, and the individual will be severely punished either through various fines. Secondly, “Leaving items unattended on a residence hall stove at any time is prohibited.” And coinciding with that, all “Toasters, toaster ovens, electric skillets, ovens, tabletop grills, and hot plates are prohibited in residence rooms,” along with incense, candles, “live-cut” Christmas trees, wreaths, halogen lamps, and the installation of any ceiling fan or air conditioner unit. Mini refrigerators are allowed if there is only one per room, larger than 4.6 cubic feet but smaller than 6 cubic feet, UL approved, “[…] equipped with a three-prong grounded outlet”, the amperage does not go over 33.5 amps, the door gaskets are in a goodly condition, and is kept frost-free, safe, and sanitary. Residential students are allowed to use extension cords but these must be “[…] UL approved three-prong extension cords that are 14 gauge or heavier are permitted” and not exceeding in more than 10 feet in length. Residential students are also allowed to barbecue, but only if it is outside and 15 feet away from any residential dorm. Finally, no smoking is allowed indoors: Only in certain smoking areas.
All Resident advisors and Residential Life staff are required to go through fire safety training the summer before classes start, as put on by the Fire & Life Safety Division. This course goes over how to prevent a fire, “current trends and national statistics of fires and causes on college campuses,” the building’s evacuation routes, “life safety systems,” and hands-on fire extinguisher training. While given to members and staff of Residential Life, this training is “[…] available to all students, staff, and faculty and can be customized for particular departments.”
Alongside knowing what to do in the case of an emergency, Whittier College also takes into consideration the idea of preparedness so situations like that do not happen in the first place. Twice a year at the least, Residential Life staff will perform “Health and Safety inspections,” in the dorms. The Annual Security and Fire Safety Report states that “During inspections, if a room is found to have violations, action will be taken to address those violations. Residents who are found to be in violation of college policies during these inspections will be subject to fines, conduct review and/or loss of current or future housing assignments. Fines for violations range from $25-$350 per violation, and violators may also be subjected to conduct review.” Also, if there are any prohibited items that can cause a fire found in a dorm, they will be confiscated.
As stated previously, the College puts in extensive detail on promoting fire safety, and how to handle things such as evacuations and precaution. But what do the students of Whittier College think? On Feb. 21, 2022, the Quaker Campus posted a poll on Instagram to ask the WC community two of the following questions: “How concerned are you about fires affecting your academic career?” with the answers being not concerned, neutral, concerned, and very concerned; and “How confident are you that in the event of a fire on campus, the College would respond swiftly and safely?”, with the answers being not confident, neutral, and confident. After a full day of the Instagram story being up, the results for the first question were 15 not being concerned, nine being neutral, three being concerned, and one being very concerned. And for the second question, the results were 14 being not confident, 13 being neutral, and nine being confident. A student who would like to remain anonymous, commented on the school’s preparedness when it comes to a fire. She states that “[…] we’ve done the drills and I know what to do in case of a fire but it hasn’t been something I’m worried about. I feel like [in] the case of a fire that the campus would probably respond quickly and would do all they could for students in the case they needed to leave the dorm for a period[…].” The data shown depicts a mix of student’s feelings from both good and bad of the preparation of Whittier College in the event of a fire on campus.
Whittier College has shown that they have a level of preparedness in the case of a fire on campus. From evacuation protocol, rules and regulations about items that can cause fires being in the dorm, to training on fire safety with all staff in the dorms, the College is putting forth the effort. And yet, there is still a level of concern and apprehension from the student body in regards to the handling of a fire on campus. If you have any questions or concerns in regards to fire safety on the Whittier College campus, you can call Campus Safety at 562.907.4911, or the Resident Life Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.