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Lessons from 1997 fire still hold true


Published (Volume 77, No. 8)


“Browning’s on fire.”

That’s never the words you want here, unless you are a journalist who only a few hours earlier was wondering what would fill the next week’s issue.

Even then, I was startled, literally leaping to my feet in bed. Who’s hurt? Is it still standing? Can I get a good picture? Where’s the camera?

It sorted itself out, we got the calls in to the right people and covered the story down every possible lead. Online two hours later.

A quick trip to the food court for smoothies kept it from being any earlier.

No one was seriously injured, but that just reminds us of how serious something like this can be. Enter the Ellington Hall fire of 1997.

Jong-Do Ki, then 23 and a resident on the third floor on the F-side of Ellington, died of smoke inhalation when the room across the hall caught fire. The residents of that room escaped, but did not alert residence hall staff or pull a fire alarm.

So how are these two incidents linked?

The ‘97 fire may have saved many students last week, as a $600,000 judgment against the university three years later prompted numerous safety enhancements to the residence halls, and a stringent training program.

Now, as the university begins a new phase in housing, replacing the Y-halls with apartment-style facilities, let’s not forget these lessons.