'Aint Nothing Like a Dorm Fire to Shake Things Up

I'm currently blogging from the comfort of my temporary residence in Mellon Hall -- a building usually reserved for HBS Executive Education participants. The good news? I have my own bathroom for the next week! The bad news? I'm here because yesterday McCulloch Hall (my dorm) caught on fire.

Yes, folks, Mother Nature was mad at us for some reason and thought that the week before finals was a fine time to call upon her flickering friend to stir up some adventure.

It all started yesterday around 2pm. I was getting ready to leave my room for a doctor's appointment when the fire alarm went off for about 5 seconds and then stopped. A few seconds later, it went off for another 5 seconds and then stopped again. After this happened a third time, a bunch of the girls on my floor convened in our common area to see what was going on. We all assumed it was probably either a false alarm or another case of burnt popcorn, so we weren't freaking out. A few of the girls decided to just stay in their rooms! Since I was on my way out anyway, I locked my door and headed outside only to see smoke BILLOWING out of the roof of the dorm on the opposite wing. This was no case of popcorn!

After a swift call to reschedule my doctor's appointment, I headed to the lawn to watch the action unfold. Within minutes, five fire trucks, three police cars and a plethora of ambulances had surrounded the dorm. The firefighters pulled out one of those crazy long ladders that you only ever see them using in the movies and started hacking away at the roof of the building (with what appeared to be axes) unraveling the water hoses and checking to make sure everyone had left the building. Shortly thereafter, the police had roped off the area...and I was yelling at myself for not having grabbed my laptop, passport or a variety of other important items that I left in my room.

From there, the details become fuzzy. All 85 residents were shuffled off to a neighboring dorm common area for "more information" and several hours later we were informed that the building was not habitable for the evening and we'd be given temporary housing until they had figured things out. Several rooms on the east wing (I live in the west wing) were completely destroyed. Most were largely unaffected but were still being examined for smoke, water and/or fire damage. The Environmental Healthy & Safety team had been called out to test the air for toxic fumes. While we'd be able to grab a few necessities from our rooms, all electricity had been turned off in the building, and wouldn't be able to be restored immediately.

Today the update was that we're all going to be displaced at least until the middle of next week, and depending on the pace of the construction work, it could be longer. Many of the residents of the east wing are being displaced for the entire remainder of the semester. Thankfully, no one was hurt, except for one firefighter who suffered some shoulder injuries.

All in all, I give kudos to HBS for handling the situation swiftly, without drama and as compassionately as possible. In addition to all of the McCulloch residents being given a room to stay in, we were given American Red Cross emergency kits with basic toiletries, towels/sheets, meal vouchers and loaner laptops (for those that needed them). I'm SO thankful that my room was only minimally affected, but now my sympathies go out to my colleagues who will have to deal with the loss of a greater proportion of their personal belongings.

The worst for me was the $75 in groceries that I had delivered the night before the fire. Most of that had to be thrown out today since we don't have mini-fridges in Mellon and the electric will be off in the building until further notice.

That's the news for now, folks. Hopefully it'll be a calm weekend in light of all the excitement!