The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

January 17, 2013

Fire breaks out in SUCO dorm

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — A fire at Matteson Hall, a SUNY Oneonta dormitory, displaced 177 residents Wednesday, officials said, but no one was hurt.

About 60 firefighters from multiple area departments aggressively fought the fire, which started in a suite on the third floor at 14 East Dorm Drive, Oneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon said Wednesday night. The fire started at about 4 p.m. and was under control in less than an hour, he said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Pidgeon said, and fire investigators were to work through the night to determine the origin of the blaze.

Students started classes at the State University College at Oneonta for the second term Wednesday and were allowed to move back into dormitories Sunday, college officials said. The fire at Matteson Hall was the second fire in a residence hall this week.

The academic schedule at SUNY Oneonta hasn’t been affected by the fire Wednesday, and classes will be held today, officials said.

On Wednesday night, the college was working with the American Red Cross on a plan to house Matteson Hall residents in the Chase Gymnasium on campus, Hal Legg, director of communications, said Wednesday. Efforts were being made to provide students with food, clothing, toiletries and computers.

Matteson Hall was evacuated and was secured by the University Police for the night, college officials said. Based on preliminary reports from officials at the scene, damage — especially smoke damage — was significant on the third floor, a media release from the college said, and other areas of the building were less affected.

Otsego County dispatchers said SUNY University Police called the county at 4:01 p.m. to report the fire based on alarms set off in three separate rooms, dispatchers said.

Pidgeon said he responded from home and was first on the scene. Flames were coming out of a window, he said, and he immediately called the station to issue a “Group 66’’ general alarm.

About 25 Oneonta firefighters were at the scene with two engines, an ambulance, two utility vehicles and the aerial ladder truck, Pidgeon said.

Crews took hoses up through the stairwells to fight the blaze, Pidgeon said, and crews also completed two rounds of searching each room to be sure everyone was out of the building.

Pidgeon said the fire started in the center bedroom in a three-bedroom suite. The two adjacent rooms had some smoke damage, he said, and the suite’s common room had fire damage.

Pidgeon said University Police and college staff were helpful and the value of drills showed in the response Wednesday.

Oneonta Fire Department crews were assisted at the scene by West Oneonta and Otego crews and the Firefighter Assist and Search Teams from Worcester, Franklin and Sidney, officials said, and two firefighters from Treadwell responded. Otsego County fire coordinators and members from the state Department of Homeland Security emergency services and fire prevention and control also were at the scene.

No firefighters were injured, Pidgeon said, and the Oneonta department was back in service at 7:30 p.m.

Officials didn’t know if or when Matteson might be habitable, Legg said, and plans were under discussion Wednesday night to find on-campus accommodations for residents.

The college reported about the fire to the campus community via Facebook, including that college officials believed that all Matteson residents were accounted for based on preliminary reports and interviews.

At dusk, clusters of students stood outside dormitories near Matteson Hall talking about what they had seen.

Christian Trapani, 20, a junior from West Hampton Beach, said he had been driving near Matteson Hall when officials told him to turn his vehicle around.

“I saw lots of smoke,’’ Trapani said.

Maralie Cammarata, 20, a junior from Carmel, said she could see flames from her dormitory, MacDuff Hall, which stands not far from Matteson.

“It looked kind of scary,’’ she said. Cammarata said she and some friends left their residence as a precaution. SUNY Oneonta has frequent fire drills, according to Cammarata, who said she generally feels safe on campus.

Legg said each residence hall has fire drills several times a year.

On Monday night, food on a stove-top left cooking unattended resulted in a kitchen fire on the fourth floor in Higgins Hall, a college report said. The blaze was extinguished by sprinklers, officials said, and 20 students were displaced for one night.

Pidgeon said Oneonta firefighters didn’t respond to the fire at Higgins Hall but went to the scene later the next day.

The New York State Office of Fire Prevention was contacted Wednesday about the Matteson Hall fire and has sent a representative, college officials said, and the SUNY Dormitory Authority will evaluate structural damage.

Pending an assessment of Matteson Hall, particularly the alarms, electrical, heating and ventilation systems, the college will begin the process of repairing the damage and cleaning the building as soon as possible, a media release said.

Fire departments in Laurens, West Laurens, Morris and Scenevus were on standby Wednesday, Otsego County dispatchers said.