April 13, 2009

Fraternity Party Ends in Flames

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At Lambda Chi Alpha’s ’90s party on Friday, it didn’t “Smell Like Teen Spirit,” but more like smoke.
At 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, the fraternity was in the middle of hosting a party, when one of the brothers began to smell smoke coming from outside in the fraternity’s shed.
“There were no visual cues,” explained Marcus Sabolis ’11, vice president of the fraternity. “Someone just smelled it through a closed door. The fact that someone was aware enough to recognize it was really lucky on our part.”
When the brothers rushed outside, they found their shed on fire.
“The scene was one of the most intense moments any of us have dealt with,” Sabolis said. “Two brothers were on a hose, myself and another brother were pulling out smoldering wood and moving objects nearbly. And six brothers were running in and out of the house with water buckets and fire extinguishers.”
According to Dan Tier, assistant chief of Ithaca Fire Department, the shed held torches and the gas that lights them, which exacerbated the fire.
Because of the chemicals, Sabolis explained that water alone could not put out the fire, making it more difficult for the brothers who rushed to the scene.
Fortunately, the Fire Department arrived within about three minutes, according to Sabolis. They contained the fire before it spread to the house.
Meanwhile, at the party, sober monitors turned off the music and switched on the lights to alert people of the possible danger.
“The people were obviously freaked out,” Sabolis said.
Caitlin Anderson ’12, who attended the fraternity party on Friday night, was asked to evacuate the building.
“They told everyone to leave because of the fire,” Anderson explained. “Everyone seemed kind of confused but they evacuated quickly and then the fire department arrived.”
Sabolis attributed the success of this safe evacuation to the Interfraternity Council’s resolution on sober monitors, which required that sober monitors at parties to be clearly identified by wearing official sober monitor t-shirts.
Anderson also noticed the people in the sober monitor shirts, who she thought did a good job of evacuating people and taking care of the problem to the best of their ability.
Eddie Rooker ’10, IFC president, was happy to hear that changes sober monitor regulations proved so useful.
“We never thought about it working in that sense when we passed it, but it does help with that sense of authority in an emergency,” Rooker said.
Despite the success in containing the fire, there has not been much progress in the investigation of who started the fire.
“We have a security camera and someone saw a person run up to our house, throw a handful of firecrackers near our shed and then there was an explosion,” Sabolis said.
While the video is currently being examined by experts at the Ithaca Police Department, the fraternity members are still hypothesizing over the culprit.
“What we think, and what seems most likely, is that another fraternity or person was trying to mess around. They might have thought it would freak people out in the party. We think it’s possible, but unlikely, that someone did this on purpose, but we do have feuds with other fraternities,” Sabolis said.
No suspect has been named yet.
The brothers mentioned the possibility of sending a formal letter to their neighbors — many of which are other fraternities — to discuss the incident.
Tier, who spoke on behalf of Scott Eaton, the investigator on the scene, knew nothing about any firecracker.
Additionally, Rooker — who knew very little about the incident as of press time — did not want to assume or even consider that this was the result of any other misconduct by another fraternity.
In the event that the responsibility for the fire could be attributed to another fraternity, Rooker believed that that would be an issue beyond the IFC.
Sabolis doesn’t think that Cornell or Ithaca Police will be able to do anything, particularly if the violence is an isolated incident.