Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Fire Evacuation Procedures Fall Grossly Short

Imagine you are in a wheelchair. An alarm rings and you don’t know what to do. You go to the elevator. Most people have already left and you see that the elevator doesn’t work. There is no emergency exit for the mobility impaired. You panic. You smell the strong scent of gas. It doesn’t matter if you are on the first floor or the fourth floor because one set of steps is all you need to be stuck. You pray to God that something finally goes in your favor. You are alone and forced to face whatever that will come next. What do you do?

Recently there was a fire alarm in White Gravenor. There was a disabled student who found that she could not use the elevator. What she and many other people may not know is that elevators are programmed to turn off during a fire alarm in many of the school buildings.

All of us at that time panicked and didn’t know what to do. Quickly, two Good Samaritans and I lifted the student’s wheelchair and started to bring her down the stairs. I was terrified. I literally almost dropped the wheelchair about two times because of the angle that we were going down the stairs. After bringing her outside we were about to leave when the girl realized that there was no ramp in the front of White Gravenor. Two of us then helped her go down the final set of stairs and ended her horrible test.

I then immediately realized that Georgetown’s handicapped accessibility is too limited on campus.

I was appalled at the chaos that occurred during this incident. Lisa Resnik, an administrative officer of the Psychology department, had reported to the facilities department at roughly 2 p.m. that there was a strong gas smell.

At 2:40, many people were beginning their next class. At 3:30 the fire alarm went off. Fifteen minutes later, we finally made it outside, where we were told to go as far as the Mary statue on Copley lawn. At about 4 p.m. the fire truck arrived. “The school originally told us to go to Harbin and then we were rerouted to White Gravenor,” firefighter Glen Everette said.

There were students taking exams outside and even a student smoking outside on the lawn (with the smell of gas in the air).

It was as if this was the first evacuation that Georgetown ever had. There was confusion and miscommunication on all levels.

So why did this all take so long? Why did it take almost an hour and a half for the fire department to arrive (and only came after a student probably pulled the alarm)? I wondered: How does the school deal with the impaired students during emergencies especially in the post Sept. 11 era?

Director of Safety and Environmental Management Phil Hagan told me that situations such as this occur five to 10 times a year and they tell the disabled students to go to the stairwells. Normally, people are sent up the stairs to look for these students and help them.

But it took more than 10 minutes after the alarm just for authorities to climb the stairs. By then, we had brought the student down the stairs and outside White Gravenor. If the girl had waited for the fire department and if there had been a real fire, one could only imagine what could have happened. I am not blaming any one individual, but I personally wish I had the knowledge to know what to do during this situation instead of simply panicking.

It was amazing that an event such as this occurs so many times in a year. All the residence halls have a plan of action to take when a fire alarm rings. They even have practice fire drills where students are told where to go just in case a real fire ever occurs. So why hasn’t the school placed a strong emphasis on the education of students regarding evacuations in buildings other than residence halls?

Just this past week there have been fire alarms in the Southwest Quad, White Gravenor, and three times at the Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., Dining Hall.

Following this incident, Psychology Professor Sandra Calvert, the disabled student’s professor, and Psychology Department Chair Deborah Phillips sent along to university officials some ideas to create a policy to protect our students and faculty who have mobility problems during an evacuation.

Hopefully the school listens to people like Professor Calvert before someone finds him or herself alone and battling time waiting for someone to help them.

It is the university’s responsibility to avoid future chaotic moments such as this one and to educate students and faculty on what to do during fires, which includes showing them the fire exits and clearly showing them how they can help others.

Levine Thomas is a junior in the College and an assistant opinion editor for THE HOYA.

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