Three floors of Baker vandalized
Evacuated after two fire alarms, perpetrator unknown
CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the fire alarms were on Sunday morning. They occurred on Saturday morning. An earlier version of this article quoted Elizabeth M. Albany saying that students "took over the Student Center with blankets and pillows." She said they " took over the student center like a bunch of pajama-wearing hobos."
Baker residents were rudely awakened by fire alarms twice on Saturday morning, once at 2 a.m. and again at 4 a.m. On the second instance, someone also “maliciously” discharged a fire extinguisher on the first, second, and third floors before disposing of it in a third-floor trash can. Baker was evacuated for several hours as a result, according to Baker President Michael E. Plasmeier ’13 and information from Baker House minutes. The fire alarms were pulled in the west wing of the first floor, from where the fire extinguisher was also taken.
Students leaving their rooms on these floors encountered the discharge on the floor, which resembled “flour” according to first-floor resident Jonathan M. “Jono” Matthews ’15. Matthews also noticed the white smoke in the air, which Housemaster Jeffrey A. Hoffman later confirmed was a respiratory hazard.
“When we got to the lobby, it looked like it was full of white smoke,” said third-floor resident Elizabeth M. Albany ’13, who at first thought the smoke was from a fire. “My nose and throat started burning from the discharge that was in the air,” Albany said, though she went through “quickly enough” that there were no lasting effects.
Colleen K. Gabel ’15, who also lives on the first floor Matthews, said that the smoke was “powdery” in the air, and that many of her neighbors also thought it was from an fire.
Students waited for around 20 minutes to get back inside, said Gabel, until the housemasters explained the situation to the cold, sleepy crowd, saying that they would not be allowed back in for “a while.” After being notified that it was not known when the clean-up crew would arrive, the students “took over the student center like a bunch of pajama-wearing hobos,” said Albany, adding that the housemasters did not suggest any location to go to.
The house team kept the residents updated with email throughout the morning. A 6 a.m. message from Hoffman said that they were waiting for a professional clean-up crew, but did not know how long it would take them to “arrive or render the building safe.” The incident was one of “pure vandalism,” Hoffman said, and mentioned that the discharge was “still creating a respiratory hazard.”
Despite the health hazard, the house team let students in for five minutes each to get belongings from their rooms, according to Plasmeier. Albany said that the residents on the track & field and crew teams had competitions that day, and needed to get belongings from their rooms. According to Albany, the process was overseen by the housemasters and Facilities workers, who made sure that residents signed in and out on their way to their room,
At 8 a.m., around when the clean-up crew arrived, Hoffman reported that there was still no update on how long the clean-up would take. There was a light breakfast in McCormick for Baker residents, where they could wait until they could safely return to Baker.
At 9:45 a.m., the dorm was finally ready for students to return after the halls had been vacuumed by an environmental cleanup service, said an email from Hoffman. In a later email, Hoffman encouraged students to “get medical attention” if they experienced any “unusual feelings in their lungs, throat, or nose.”
On Sunday night, the Baker House minutes said that there were no leads on the “evil fire extinguisher man,” but that anyone with information should contact Plasmeier or the housemasters. Plasmeier also said on Monday that he was not aware of any students with respiratory issues as a result of the incident, and that Baker was not taking any measures to more heavily enforce the pulling of fire extinguishers, citing existing punishment at the Institute and governmental levels.
“Students are generally upset with what happened and angry with the person who did it,” added Plasmeier.