Newnham College girls flout fire safety

Alex Cooke - Deputy News Editor 9 March 2010

Newnham College authorities have expressed concern over the inadequate student response to a fire that broke out at the College last Tuesday.

The fire, which started at 8.25pm on 23rd February, was caused by a pair of hair straighteners that had been left under a pile of clothes and accidentally turned on.

According to Wendy Evans, Domestic Bursar at Newnham: “The fire alarm was activated and the smoke seal of the closed door prevented the smoke or fire from the room spreading to the surrounding areas.

The porters investigated and identified the fire and called the Fire Brigade who attended promptly. The smoke was so thick that the firemen were wearing breathing apparatus.”

Four fire crews were called along with a rescue vehicle, and fire fighters put out the fire using two fire extinguishers. The fire was not too damaging, and a potentially more serious incident was prevented from happening.

However, the lack of co-operation shown by students alarmed college authorities. Fire-fighters arrived to find that some of the students had failed to evacuate the building, so had to assist with the evacuation.

In an email sent to Newnham students, Wendy Evans wrote: “The Fire Officer has reported that even when the Fire Service were clearly and conspicuously present some students had not and would not evacuate the building, even though it was very apparent that there was a serious incident taking place. Such behaviour is not just silly, it is dangerous: to those who decided to stay in proximity to the fire and potentially to both the firemen and others in the building.”

Amy Aukland, a second year philosopher at Newnham, witnessed the incident and told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “When I heard the fire alarm I initially headed for the nearest exit, but as no-one seemed particularly concerned, I began to head back to my room. It was only when I began to smell smoke that I decided it was probably best to go outside.

“However, some people still didn’t seem bothered, even when the fire service arrived.”

The girl who was responsible for the fire told TCS: “The straighteners were on because I flicked them on at the wall instead of turning off my hairdryer and in fact had not even used them that night.

“I had no idea they were on when I left the room, proving that not only do you need to be careful where you put them after use but also that they need to be unplugged from the wall.

“Flicking a wrong switch is something which can happen quite easily when people are pre-occupied or rushing.”

Steve Duffy, Watch Manager at Cambridge Fire Station, said: “Hair straighteners reach extremely high temperatures and can start a fire easily if placed on a flammable surface… Always double check that you have turned them off properly and ensure that you place them onto a heat resistant surface while they cool down.”

Alex Cooke – Deputy News Editor