Over 100 students were evacuated from Coles Tower last Saturday night after two female students sprayed a fire extinguisher throughout the fourth floor of the building and into the stairwell leading down to the third floor. The incident occurred at 11:19 p.m., according to Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols. There was a gathering of 20 to 25 people in room 4B at the time, according to Mark Richter ’14, who lives on the floor.
According to Nichols, two female Bowdoin students were identified on Thursday as those responsible. Nichols conducted 18 interviews with students who evacuated the Tower and reviewed video camera footage and the door swipe access records before approaching the two students about the incident. Nichols said that the students were honest and forthright when he spoke to them and that they took responsibility for their actions.
In response, Nichols has assigned a Bowdoin Security officer to the Tower beginning this Saturday night and continuing for every Saturday night for the rest of the semester. The officer will stand in the lobby and occasionally make walk-throughs of the stairwells.
This incident marks the sixth time this academic year that a student has activated a fire alarm in a non-emergency situation and the third time that it has happened in the Tower.
On Saturday, smoke alarms alerted students to the danger, and students reported seeing a cloud in the hallway of the fourth floor. The gas set off alarms from the third floor up to the eleventh floor, and the whole building was evacuated.
“I saw someone open the door and I just saw a huge cloud of smoke, no people,” said Richter.
The fine powder from the fire extinguisher was monoammonium phosphate, an irritating but non-toxic substance. The elevators in the Tower shut down as a part of the response to the fire alarms so students had to make their way through the cloud of fine powder to reach the lobby as they exited.
“There was lots of commotion. People were just running down the stairs,” said Tommy Spurlock ’14, who lives on the fifth floor of the Tower.
Four Bowdoin Security officers responded to the incident and arrived at the Tower a few minutes after the alarms went off. The Brunswick Fire Department also arrived at the Tower a within a few minutes.
“As soon as you got to the lobby of Thorne, it was pretty hectic. Lots of people congregated in front of the doors to the Tower. People didn’t know what was going on,” said Spurlock.
A housekeeper had to be called in to clean up the powder from the fire extinguisher, and an electrician was also called in to fix the elevator, which was out of operation until 1 a.m. Security initially thought that the chemicals had damaged the elevator, but it only needed to be reset by the electrician. A Security officer remained in the lobby after midnight to direct students towards the east stairwell in order to avoid the areas in which the extinguisher discharge had been thickest.
The students found responsible will meet with their dean in the coming days. They will likely be fined between $500 and $650 for the fire department response and roughly another $200 for the housekeeper and electrician who were called in.
“I just want students to know that we take these incidents very seriously,” said Nichols.
Correction, February 20 at 6 p.m.: The article previously stated that the fire extinguisher released gas; it has been corrected to show that a fire extinguisher actually discharges a fine powder.