Hannah Van Otterloo — Staff Writer
A fire alarm went off in the Southview apartments on Monday, September 30, around 12:30 a.m. While fire alarms are fairly common on college campuses–from burnt popcorn to unsupervised hot dogs boiling on the stove unintentionally triggering an alarm–this was the real deal. A Lithium Ion battery in an electric longboard exploded while charging in a bedroom closet.
“The three guys in that room had just fallen asleep,” said Grant Dunsbergen, one of the residents of the room. “Max Kolb and I were in the living room doing homework. At around 12:30, we heard a sound much like a strong gust of wind, and didn’t think anything of it. A couple seconds later, Derek started screaming that something was on fire, so Max and I ran to the bedroom. As we got there, Tyler ran out with flaming t-shirts to throw them in the shower… Mat was frantically beating out flames with a blanket. Max and I found some towels to help Mat, and Derek ran into the hall to get the fire extinguisher. The smoke from the explosion filled the room within 30 seconds.”
Smoke detectors were activated by the smoke, alerting other residents to the danger and dispatching the Sioux Center Fire Department (SCFD).
Emma Meyer, a Junior from Minnesota, lives across the hall from the room with the fire.
“My roommate Jen woke me up, saying, ‘Emma! Emma, do you think we should get up?’ I honestly hadn’t even heard the fire alarm, so I was like, ‘oh, okay.’ So I stumbled out of my loft, and just walked out into the hallway and some of the guys with the fire in their room were standing out there, and they’re like, ‘you need to get out, there’s a fire!’ So I went back to go grab my shoes, and they were like, ‘no, don’t go back in, there’s a fire!’ And I was like, ‘I’m gonna grab a blanket!’ So, I grabbed a blanket and shoes and headed out with my roommates… we got out there and there’s smoke billowing out the window… like it was pretty bad. It was really like oh this is not just a drill anymore, there’s a lot of smoke.”
Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident, but there was some damage done.
“The fire destroyed the carpet in the closet, and Tyler lost 15-20 shirts that were hanging in the closet next to the battery when it exploded,” Dunsbergen said. “Also, the fire extinguisher covered the entire bedroom in a layer of dust and fire extinguisher material… We spent most of Monday cleaning the apartment and maintenance did a great job of getting us the tools we needed and replacing the ruined carpet. 24 hours after the fire, you couldn’t tell it ever happened.”
Nathan van Niejenhuis, Director of Facilities and Grounds, described Maintenance’s role not only in this situation, but in all fire alarms.
“This was the 4th alarm call that weekend,” said van Niejenhuis. “The Facilities Department gets notified every single time an alarm goes off. Facilities assists the Sioux Center Fire Department with source discovery and building access and evacuation. Then we are responsible for resetting the alarm system to enable effective monitoring again once the incident is resolved.”
“I didn’t think that an electric longboard would be something that would catch on fire. It was really random,” Meyer said.
But, if this can happen once with an electric longboard, could it happen again with something else?
“Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again, but every single cell phone, laptop, electric scooter, etc. is a fire waiting to happen,” said van Niejenhuis. “Don’t buy cheap junk. Either buy quality, or don’t buy. The biggest take away is to ensure that all fire detection and suppression devices remain active and uncovered. It is always a big deal when the alarm goes off. Each and every time a smoke detector is activated on campus, no matter the time of day or night, whether it’s a holiday or a weekend, between 80 to 90 local families are impacted. Sleeping babies are woken up, family dinners are interrupted, and volunteers drop everything to race to our campus and ensure your safety. Don’t ever leave the stove unattended when you are cooking, make sure your windows are easily accessible, and if the alarm goes off, get out! This circumstance ended well, only cosmetic damage to the building. Buildings can be repaired, and fires can be put out, but once you’re at the Coroner’s office, it’s a done deal.”
“We have no more electric longboards, and we now know where the fire extinguisher is,” said Dunsbergen.
“It just kind of made us think about what could happen in the future, like what we need to do to make sure that everything in our room is safe,” Meyer said. “So the day after this happened, we brought them cookies and gave them a housewarming gift.”