By Roger Lee Osborne/Staff writer
Arson has been determined the cause of two fires in Commonwealth Hall Jan. 9 and 12 which both activated the buildings sprinkler system. According to a police report from Eastern’s Division of Public Safety, a fire alarm evacuated residents at 8:39 p.m. Jan. 9. Residents were not allowed back inside the building until the Richmond Fire Department and state fire marshal deemed the scene safe for re-entry.
According to Assistant Fire Chief Buzzy Campbell, the fire, located on the service landing above the 20th floor, was deliberately started.
Four Richmond fire trucks responded to the call, but “upon arrival the sprinkler system had extinguished the fire,” Campbell said.
A report from the Richmond Fire Department stated that, “one sprinkler head was activated … (and) there was water damage to the 20th, 19th and 18th floors.”
Once again, at 11:11 p.m. on Jan. 12, fire alarms were activated and the Richmond Fire Department responded to a second Commonwealth fire.
According to the fire department’s incident report, the fire was located in the trash chute and was extinguished by a third floor sprinkler. No water damage was reported as an effect of the fire. Eastern’s Division of Public Safety is investigating both fires.
“If a person is apprehended they would be charged with arson in the first degree,” said Tom Lindquist, director of Public Safety. “This is a Class A felony and carries a sentence from 20 years to life.”
President Joanne Glasser issued a $1,500 award for the arrest and indictment of the person or persons responsible for either of the incidents. The award is a joint decision that includes the vice president, Division of Public Safety and state fire marshal.
A mandatory hall meeting was held Jan. 9 and Jan. 13. Monday night, both administrators and hall staff informed students about what actions are being taken to ensure their safety. Among the precautions are an increased number of hall staff and building rounds.
The fires have also prompted a campus-wide photo identification requirement for anyone entering or leaving any residence hall.
In an address to the Student Government Association on Tuesday, Glasser said, “I know some of you are feeling very inconvenienced and I do apologize, but I have to say that your inconvenience is a small price to pay for safety.”
Although the identification is not permanent, Glasser also said, “At least until we can get a handle on what’s going on, bring calm and stability we need to all cooperate.
“This is criminal behavior, but beyond that, it affects all of us that live in the dorms or that are members of the Eastern Kentucky University family,” Glasser said.
Public Safety is investigating both arson incidents.
Anyone with information about either incident is urged to contact Public Safety at 622-2821 or Cabot Jahnigen, deputy state fire marshal, at 502-573-0364.