By Ed Comeau
9 Fires, a documentary on the impact that nine campus-related fires across the nation had on students, families, the campus and the communities will be premiered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 18 during a city-wide residence hall fire drill. Coordinated by the Philadelphia Fire Department, universities will simultaneously be holding fire drills and Drexel University will be featuring a showing of 9 Fires as part of its educational program. Earlier in the day, the documentary will also be the centerpiece of a citywide emergency managers meeting at the University of Pennsylvania. (The trailer for 9 Fires can be seen here.)
In January, a fire on Linden Street in Boston forced seven Boston University students to jump from all three stories of their off-campus house, severely injuring Josh Goldenberg, and Josh and his father shared their story about how this devastating fire has impacted their lives. Allie Wheeler, a Suffolk University student, told a local news program how she was trapped on the top floor of her apartment building and had to be rescued by Brookline fire fighters when she had passed out from the smoke.
Along with these two fires are stories of a residence hall fire at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that resulted in the building being shut down for an entire semester and 271 students having to find new housing; a laboratory fire at SUNY Canton that shut down the campus for a full week, forcing the school to send all of the students home while the environmental impact was assessed and cleaned up; a theme house fire at Hampden-Sydney College, started by a cigarette in a couch, severely burned one student who went back in looking for his friend; and, most tragically, a house fire in Poughkeepsie, New York, that claimed the lives of three Marist College Students. The impact of this fire is told by one of the fathers, Bob Fitzsimons, in a most memorable way.
In addition to these tragedies, however, are success stories. A disaster at a high-tech laboratory at the University of Maryland was averted by the activation of an automatic fire sprinkler system. Similar tragedies were avoided in residence halls at Arizona State University and Portland State University in Oregon. Each of these success stories provides valuable contrasts to the other tragic fires that are subjects in this documentary.
Produced by the Minger Foundation (www.mingerfoundation.org), with assistance from Campus Firewatch (www.campus-firewatch.com), film crews traveled across the country gathering information and interviews for this film which will be made freely available on the Minger Foundation web site on October 19.
Following Philadelphia, 9 Fires will be shown at a Campus Fire Safety Summit in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This Summit is being convened by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the La Crosse Fire Department, Campus Firewatch and the Minger Foundation following the fire that just claimed the lives of two students in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on October 10. Fire and university officials from across the state will be attending this summit, along with Ed Comeau and Gail Minger, to explore ideas on how to stop these tragedies from happening.