Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, students, educators, and construction workers alike were forced to exit Parrish Hall when a small fire in a section of pipe insulation threatened to become serious. According to Jason McGinnis of the Swarthmore Police, a minor blaze broke out in the same area earlier Tuesday morning but was quickly put out by construction staff. Late in the afternoon, the fire rekindled to a degree that necessitated the calling of emergency personnel.
Students, staff, and administrators gathered at each of the primary exits of Parrish to watch as an estimated eight fire trucks arrived. In addition, Public Safety, the Swarthmore Police, and EMS came to assist, quickly filling up both Parrish access circles and the walkways behind the building.
Swarthmore Fire Chief Cris Hansen explained that the fire was small, but “potentially dangerous,” developing in between the 2nd and 3rd floors in the central section of the building that is currently under construction. At least eight fire companies responded, coming from Swarthmore, Garden City (Nether Providence), Morton, Rutledge, and Media. The personnel “opened up the walls, isolated the fire, and extinguished it,” according to Hansen.
Registrar Martin Warner, among those standing outside, explained that Parrish’s role as a dormitory was part of the cause for the swift and strong response. “Everyone takes fire in a dormitory very seriously,” Warner said, adding that whenever a fire threatens to endanger a building, the degree of concern shown yesterday should be exhibited.
Parrish West residents Alex Hahn, Ben Cronin, and Chris Harmon, all first years, were relatively calm as they waited for the all-clear signal by Tarble. They noted that this was their third or fourth fire alarm this year, although this was the first that seemed serious. Asked whether they had any concerns about living in Parrish, which has a dubious reputation among students for fire safety, Hahn said, “I haven’t really thought about it before.”
Fire companies began leaving shortly after 4:45 p.m., when officials declared the fire under control. By 5:15, most of the trucks had departed and student life was returning to normal.
Joining Hahn, Cronin, and Harmon outside Parrish was a diverse cross-section of the Swarthmore population, including Al Bloom, student members of the Swarthmore Fire and Protective Association, and a reporter for the DelCo Times, a local newspaper. Television station WB17 also sent a crew to interview Chief Hansen. In addition, many faculty members and students stopped briefly on their travels around campus to inquire as to what was going on.
Though Parrish was never at risk for burning down, all individuals interviewed stressed that concerns about preventing any possibility of that happening were the reason for the rapid response to put out the fire.