Student triggers fire sprinkler, floods A-wing of Callahan Hall

At 7 a.m. on Aug. 20, Rick Seal didn’t want to wake up his roommates living with him in A302 in Callahan Hall. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful in his mission.

“I had the earliest class,” Seal said. “[My roommates] were asleep…. I was almost all ready, but I had to go put my shirt down to brush my teeth.” He realized there was a nearby spot to hang his shirt up: a fire sprinkler.

When Seal came back to take the shirt off of the hanger, that’s when it happened: “I tapped [the sprinkler’s seal] with the hanger when I took the shirt off.” Water came pouring out of the sprinkler then, he said, waking up all of his roommates.

According to System Sensor, a company that makes building fire detection and fighting equipment, these sprinklers can pump out more than 10 gallons per minute.

Right after the sprinkler activated, Seal went looking for help. He tried his resident assistant, who he said was in the shower. He went down to the front desk of Callahan, which wasn’t open yet.

Within minutes, water had begun to go through to lower floors, flooding the entirety of Callahan’s A-wing, and the fire alarms were blaring, waking the rest of the residents up and forcing them outside.

“When I woke up, it was raining from the ceiling,” said Trevor Matthews, former resident of Callahan room A202. Matthews said he is being relocated to Norse Hall.

Director of University Housing Arnie Slaughter said the full amount of damage has not been calculated; however, it was much less than it could have been.

“Luckily, my staff, the facilities team, residence life team, and even our outside contractor, they responded immediately to the scene,” Slaughter said, “so the amount of damage that could have occurred was significantly lessened.”

Slaughter also praised several quick-thinking residents, who placed rolled-up towels and floor mats in front of their doors before evacuating the building.

“[These students] potentially not only saved their floor in their specific room, but also caused that water to not seep through the floor right below them,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said that the university is addressing this situation by furthering residents’ knowledge about not messing around with the sprinkler system and the smoke detectors.

“It’s mainly about education, and making sure that students are aware of carefully thinking,” Slaughter said.

The university has placed posters inside Norse Commons and Callahan Hall, showing a picture of a fire sprinkler and reading “Need a place to hang? Try somewhere else.”
“I think it was one of those not-thinking moments,” University Police Chief Jason Willis said. “I don’t think there was any intent to do damage, but I think it’s one of those things that probably wasn’t the best decision.”

Seal admits it was a stupid mistake.

“I personally…have tried to get every person whose room I have affected, to personally say sorry,” Seal said. “I want to say ‘I’m sorry,’ because I screwed up.”

Residents living in rooms directly below A302 (A102 and A202) have been moved out permanently, so that the amount of damage can be fully assessed and repaired before residents are moved back into those rooms, according to Slaughter.

Danielle Hoffman, former resident of A102, said, “I really didn’t know how bad it was going to be until I got back in our room for 10 minutes to get my books for class, and there was a solid inch of water…throughout the room.”

Since there was no malicious intent, there will be no criminal charges filed, according to Willis. He said he hopes people learn from this and won’t mess around with the water sprinklers.