Holding Fire

A top-notch fire department and good technology keep Harvard buildings safe from fire--but are students the weak link?

When a Leverett House fire alarm rang last Sunday afternoon, G-tower residents followed what has come to be a familiar routine: They filed out of the building, stood in the cold and expected to be let back inside once officials realized it was a false alarm.

Last Sunday, however, the alarm was real.

Fortunately, the fire was small--a small pile of leaves in a ventilation grate had been ignited by a discarded cigarette--and posed little threat to the building.


But for students waiting to return to their rooms, the sight of eight fire trucks and columns of white smoke pouring from the grate was enough to cause concern, especially in the wake of a Jan. 19 Seton Hall University dormitory fire, which killed three students.

Clearly there is no foolproof way to prevent a similar incident on Harvard's campus. But University and local officials say campus buildings stand out as among the best-protected college structures in the country, both because of the advanced fire prevention technology already in place, and because of the firefighters who protect them.

"Anything we've asked for, they've always agreed to," says Gerald R. Reardon, deputy chief of the Cambridge Fire Department (CFD).

A Hot Topic

In the month of January alone, additional fires at the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of New Mexico made national headlines and highlighted fire safety problems common on college campuses.

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