Fires in Resident Halls start conversation on safety


Outside Chung Apartments. Photo Credit: Riley Hurst Brubaker

Josie Barton and Emma Griffith

A dryer fire occurred in the Chung Apartments from the friction of the dryer belt at approximately 10:57 p.m. on March 12, 2023. According to the Director of Facilities Devin Wilson, the accident most likely occurred from a student overloading the dryer with clothes. 

Students were evacuated from the building after the fire alarm went off and Public Safety and the Pittsburgh Fire Department arrived on scene shortly after. 

Rexford Smith ‘25, a resident of the Chung Apartments, recalled his experience with the laundry fire as a student. 

“All of a sudden I heard the fire alarm going off. … I went out in the hall, and I didn’t see anybody yet. The alarm kept repeating ‘fire, fire leave the building.’ I thought to myself  ‘this sounds real,’” Smith said.

Shortly after, Smith went back into his apartment to alert the others. “I go back into my room and I tell everyone we need to leave, and they weren’t taking it seriously,” he said. 

After some time, the residents of Chung Apartments realized that this was a real emergency.

“I went down the stairs to find the root cause. On the second floor, I saw the smoke and I smelled it,” Smith said. 

All of the residents of the Chung building were instructed by Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life and Student Conduct at Chatham University Kris Nolan-Parker to wait by the Chatham Apartments and to stay far away from the building. 

Smith mentioned his surprise for how long it took the fire department to arrive to the scene. 

“The fire department didn’t come for at least 10 to 15 minutes after we were outside waiting. We were allowed to stand inside Chatham Apartment D because it was so cold outside. It was unbelievable how long it took [them] to get there,” Smith said. 

Eventually, the residents were permitted back into the building. Smith recalled that the Dean of Students, Chris Purcell, was present with the students while they waited.

“A cop came and was telling people things, and then people were walking back to Chung… they let us back in. It still smelled like smoke in the building but no visual smoke. Shortly after we were sent an email that it was a laundry fire,” Smith said. 

Facilities examined the scene once the situation was contained. After Wilson made sure that electrical concerns were no longer an issue, the appliance was repaired.

Nolan-Parker expressed the importance of student responsibility in maintenance as well as response to appliance issues. They encourage students to report to their RAs or fill out facilities request forms through MyChatham which is sent directly to Residence Life.

“We didn’t really see a need to contact them often but they are very responsive. I have not had a negative experience with any RA,” Sam Barrett ‘24 said. Barrett lives in the Tower A apartment.

Previously, an oven fire occurred at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2022 in Pelletreau Tower 6. Wilson confirmed that a student accidentally left food in an apartment oven for too long, causing the oven to smoke. Wilson was unsure if the oven eventually caught fire.

Chatham’s Chief of Police Donna Grossi responded to the call, noticing that there was visible damage to the appliance, resulting in a replacement oven. She and Nolan-Parker established the issue as a user error. 

Chatham uses National Apartment Laundries, located in Pittsburgh for Chung and Lindsor apartments. The remaining buildings use CSC Service Works for laundry facilities. Routine maintenance checks of residence dorms and apartments occur regularly and after spring semesters. Room assessments include furniture, appliance and paint assessments. CSC Service Works also conducts routine checks.

“[CSC Service Works] are receptive. They do respond to all our calls… we believe they are doing what they are supposed to and we have a lot of trust in that vendor,” Devin said.

Wilson and Grossi sit on the safety committee at Chatham University which meets monthly to address student issues at Chatham from Chatham Student Government which facilitates outcomes and feedback to the safety committee.

Nolan-Parker encourages students to ask questions or reach out to the administration if they believe that an appliance is not working properly or if they want to inquire about the use of an appliance.

Students can file maintenance facilities request forms through the MyChatham website for non-urgent requests.

“I would encourage students who are living on campus to lean on their RAs and if they need help to contact them,” Nolan-Parker said. “If you notice something that isn’t working, put a request in. That is what we are here for.”

If students are looking to learn more about handling emergencies, Grossi encourages students to enroll in the Chatham police department’s fire extinguisher training on campus.

“I know a lot of students are in their independent environment for the first time,” Wilson said. “Treat everything like it’s your own because if you don’t, it is going to break down. It’s not only going to affect you. It’s going to affect everyone else that has to use it after that.”