Fire in Phelps Hall displaces 49 students

Students wait outside after being evacuated from Phelps Hall when a couch in the first floor lounge caught on fire. 

More than 250 students were evacuated at 1 a.m. from Phelps Residence Hall, Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Eastern Michigan University when a piece of furniture caught on fire in the first floor lounge.

EMU’s Department of Public Safety is still investigating the cause of the fire. According to Geoff Larcom, executive director of media relations, one student was rescued from a window during the fire and was treated for smoke inhalation and later released from an area hospital.

“When I opened the door, there was thick black smoke filling the hallway. I couldn't see anything or breathe,” said Olivia Henry, a freshman studying elementary education and a resident of the floor where the fire occurred.

“During the time we were waiting, my throat started hurting really bad and I had developed a cough, so they sent me to an ambulance to get checked out," she said. "Thankfully, I was fine.” 

Students who were evacuated from Phelps Hall sat in the other buildings of the First Year Center while they waited for further instructions. Those living on the second, third and fourth floors of Phelps were allowed back into their rooms around 6 a.m.

“When I sat on my bed [after being allowed back in] I rubbed my hand across my comforter and my hand was pitch black,” said Cara Baker, a freshman studying phycology and a resident of the fourth floor of Phelps.

The students living on the first floor have been relocated to Buell and Wise residence halls where they will remain for the rest of the semester. Students were allowed back into their rooms today to colllect their items. A total of 49 students were permanently moved into different dorms. 

Henry said her first night staying in another residence hall felt like sleeping in a hotel. "It's not home, yet," she said. 

“Housing staff has made efforts to get basic things such as toiletries to the students, as well as immediate efforts to borrow clothes,” said Larcom.

Before the fire, several students said they heard the fire alarm go off in Phelps around 9 p.m. and left the building thinking the alarm was a fire drill.

“One of the RAs said the fire drill wasn’t planned and that somebody accidentally brushed up against one of the emergency doors,” said Baker.

According to Larcom, Police Chief Robert Heights said the alarm students heard was from the basement of the Dining Commons and not a fire alarm.

This is the second fire to occur in the First Year Center – Putnam, Phelps, Walton and Sellers – this year. In September, a fire in one of the rooms of Putnam Hall occurred when a hot curling iron was placed on a mattress.

“I’m thinking about not staying on campus anymore because this is the second fire we’ve had in just this area,” said Taylor Yarnell, a freshman studying elementary education who lives on the second floor of Phelps.

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