The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 1, 2006

Phillips Fire Still Under Investigation
Sauna Up in Smoke: The recent fire has placed parts of the gym in lockdown including the sauna where it is assumed to have originated.

In the early hours of Thursday, Nov. 23, a fire broke out in or near the sauna of Philips gym. Although no one was hurt in the blaze, the sauna, locker rooms and handicap restroom all suffered severe damage. The estimate of damage in terms of cost is still unknown.

The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, and will not be known until reports from the Oberlin Fire Department and Oberlin College’s insurance adjusters are in.

Safety and Security officers discovered the fire during their normal rounds. They called the Oberlin Fire department at 12:10 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, reporting that they detected smoke in the basement of Philips. According to Oberlin Fire Chief Dennis Kirin, approximately 17 firefighters responded and it took them between 15 and 20 minutes to “backtrace” the source of the smoke. Once firefighters had located the fire, they confronted it in the hallway outside the sauna.

“The concrete floor and concrete ceiling combination holds heat like you wouldn’t believe,” said Kirin. “[The firefighters] did a tremendous job going into that hallway and stopping that fire.” The blaze was declared under control at 1:12 a.m.

Philips was closed after the fire, but reopened partially at noon on Tuesday. Inside, past the caution tape and signs alerting gym users to the closures, the smell of smoke lingered. People who had left belongings in the locker rooms over the break were retrieving them, mostly in trash bags. The fencing and weight rooms above the locker rooms were locked and dark, as they use the same air handler that ventilates the burned-out areas of Philips. Letting people use these areas would mean circulating the dust and soot produced by the fire. The pool next door to the sauna remains open, but anyone who chooses to use it must shower when they get back to the dorm.

Joe Karlgaard, director of athletics, said the gym would not be back up to full pre-fire conditions until sometime next semester. However, the closures will not likely impact the performances of Oberlin sports teams. Most fall sports teams have already ended their seasons and the winter sports teams (indoor track and field, swimming and diving and basketball) have been able to continue their practices. The greatest impacts of the fire to sports teams are the the locker rooms and weight room facilities. The Athletic Department has plans to move a limited amount of the weight equipment to a squash court.

Rumors have been circulating that alarms in Philips malfunctioned and alarms that should have been automatically triggered at the Safety and Security Office and at the Oberlin Fire Department, in fact, were not.

Al Moran, vice president of college relations, responded to these rumors: “From what I’ve been told and what I understand, the alarm acted exactly as it should. From what I’ve been told, that part of Philips is not designed to activate an alarm at the city fire department or at security.”

According to Moran, dorms and dining halls are equipped with such a hard-wired system, but the gym simply has an audible alarm, which sounds when a fire is detected. In this case, the latest information indicates that the fire destroyed the sauna’s fire alarm, which triggered the audible alarm for the whole building.

“The bottom line is, the system worked as it should,” said Moran.


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