BC Copes with Fire's Aftermath

BC Copes with Fire's Aftermath

Officers' actions at Medeiros blaze praised

By Mark Sullivan and Reid Oslin
Staff Writers

When the call came in at 5:17 a.m. last Friday that a fire had broken out in the Medeiros Townhouses, Officer William Murphy was the first of a half-dozen Boston College police officers to arrive on the scene.

He found flames and black smoke pouring out of the windows, students trapped on the roof, and others on the sidewalk yelling that friends were still in the building.

"A kid was yelling out of a window, 'Get me out of here! I'm going to die!'" recalled Murphy, who led a police charge into the three-section Upper Campus residence hall housing 96 freshmen.

The 12-year-veteran BC officer twice entered the building, crawling on hands and knees through fetid black smoke and making it as far as the third floor before heat and fumes forced his retreat.

Murphy and Officer Karen Casey, who also rushed into the burning building, were treated along with six students for smoke inhalation, but luckily, no life-threatening injuries were suffered in the early-morning dorm fire, sparked by a faulty electrical plug strip in a third-floor room.

The events touched off a day that saw BC inundated by calls from concerned relatives and members of the media, and dramatic footage of the blaze featured on local TV news broadcasts. But the near-tragedy also brought out the best of the University community, say administrators.

Within a few hours, 100 undergraduates and several parents of local students had offered accommodation s to 38 students displaced in the fire, even as BC prepared to provide counseling and other assistance. Since last Friday, construction crews have been hard at work repairing the damage, and Buildings and Grounds Director Thomas Devine said the 18 students still displaced should be back in their rooms in about two weeks.

Boston College Police Chief Robert Morse credits the quick action of his officers in the minutes before Newton firefighters arrived for helping avert tragedy.

"Flames were rolling out the windows, and people were yelling and screaming everywhere," Morse recalled. "Those two to five minutes waiting for the fire department to arrive are an eternity, not only for the people inside, but for the police."

A report of fire is "the worst call you have from a police point of view," said the chief, a former Massachusetts state trooper.

"When you hear 'fire!' and see smoke, you know it's a bad situation," he said. "Officers are trained to charge right ahead and save lives. When you have to crawl on your hands in thick black smoke, it's one of the scariest things you can do."

Murphy, who will soon celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Laurie, a Brandeis University police sergeant, said he didn't hesitate when he realized students were trapped in the burning building.

"I didn't even think," he said. "I went right into the building. The smoke was all the way to the floor. On the third floor, the smoke was worse. You could even taste the hot gases."

Yet Murphy and his fellow officers pressed on in the face of physical danger, said Morse: "The training takes over. I'm always proud of the officers in these situations. They respond and do what they have to do."

The bravery of the BC police was indicative of the spirit with which the entire campus rallied in the face of the crisis, said Associate Director of Housing Linda Riley.

"I think the community responded in an excellent manner," said Riley. "Everyone pulled together: Buildings and Grounds, University Counseling, Health Services, the Jesuit Community, the campus police, the Housing staff. It was remarkable to see the support and teamwork everyone showed to make sure students withstood the crisis."

Eighteen displaced students this week were being housed in temporary quarters on campus, said Riley, with some bunking in converted lounges in Fitzpatrick and CLX halls and others staying in friends' dorm rooms.

Riley said counseling sessions for students affected by the blaze have been ongoing through the week. The students also were given cash or credit to purchase clothing, toiletries and other necessary items, as well as replace any textbooks or other school-related materials.

Devine said that the building itself did not sustain any significant structural damage from the flames, but articles in the individual rooms were destroyed, and the rooms and hallways suffered heavy smoke and water damage.

"The only fire damage was to a small interior wall and a couple of doors," Devine said. "There were also several windows that were knocked out" by fire crews battling the blaze, he said.

The replacement windows must be specially made to fit the building specifications, according to Devine. Repair work involving electrical and data wiring, plastering, painting, recarpeting, and window replacement must be done in sequence, h e noted.

Devine said that because of the scope of the repair work and the particular layout of the building, no students can be readmitted to the damaged section of the wing until the entire project is completed.


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