Large amounts of smoke prompt Woodland Hall evacuation

Woodland Hall was constructed in 1909. Photo Credit: Chatham University

Woodland Hall was constructed in 1909. Photo Credit: Chatham University

Alice Crow

Chatham University Public Safety received a call at 3:55 p.m. Dec. 2 about alarming amounts of smoke coming from a closet on the fourth floor of Woodland Hall. 

Officers responded to the scene to find smoke, prompting them to pull the fire alarm to evacuate the building. 

Pittsburgh Police and fire department responded to assist, by request. The cause of the smoke was an exhaust fan motor in the restroom. Chatham electricians responded to disassemble the equipment,” Chief of Public Safety Donna Grossi said in a statement on behalf of the department. 

No fire or injuries were reported from the incident. Officers and the Pittsburgh Fire Department ventilated the area with fans and open windows.

Hayden Acker ‘24, a resident of Woodland Hall, was visiting a friend on the fourth floor of the building when he discovered the smoke. 

“I was walking down the hall and on the other side of the hall it was hazy,” Acker said. “You could see there was smoke on the other side of the hall, and it smelled of smoke really bad.”

He initially believed someone was burning a candle but went to investigate the origin of the smoke when it grew worse. 

“I thought, ‘I really need to know where this is coming from,’ because at this point the hall was very, very hazy,” Acker said. “I opened the electrical closet and this plume of smoke came out.” 

Acker attempted to notify the fourth floor Resident Assistant, but she was at a class at the time and unable to help with the situation. 

“I went down to the third floor RA and I said, ‘Hey, I think there is a fire or something on the fourth floor. I don’t really know,’ and she looked at me, dropped all her stuff, and she said, ‘Someone needs to call Public Safety. I’m scared of fires,’ and she ran away.” 

Acker then returned to his room on the fourth floor to call the number for Public Safety, which can be found on posters on the dorm room door. 

“At this point you couldn’t see past the lower half of the hallway,” Acker recalled. 

After Public Safety arrived and the alarm was pulled, residents evacuated the building. Dean of Students Chris Purcell told students to wait in other buildings to create a safe distance between them and Woodland Hall while officers investigated. 

“We certainly can learn something from every incident, and this one was no different. I have been engaged with conversations with Chatham Police, Residence Life, facilities, and University communications as to how we can continue to strengthen our emergency response moving forward,” said Purcell. 

When asked about Chatham’s response to the situation, Acker replied, “I feel like it was handled decently.” He, however, noted that some Resident Assistants have responded similarly, acting in a panicked way to other emergency situations in the past. 

“The information you are sharing is not something we have heard about yet,” said Director of Residence Life and Assistant Dean of Students Shawn McQuillan-Krepps when asked for comment about the situation. “We do train our staff that in the event that they see smoke or fire that if the alarm is not activated to pull the alarm station, exit the building, and call 911 if no emergency personnel are on scene.”

McQuillan-Krepps said that Residence Life will be looking into the matter and follow up with Residence Life staff in Woodland about the incident. 

Otherwise, Acker was happy he came upon the situation before it became more serious. 

“If this happened at night, this could have been a lot worse,” he said.