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

January 18, 2013

Chief: Drills helped prepare for response

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The fire in Matteson Hall at SUNY Oneonta started in a malfunctioning electrical power strip that was improperly located near “soft goods’’ such as bedding materials, Oneonta’s fire chief said Thursday.

About 60 firefighters from multiple departments responded to a general alarm call for assistance to battle the blaze at the State University College at Oneonta at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and Oneonta Fire Department Chief Patrick Pidgeon said previous drills help ensure a successful response.

“Everything went fairly smoothly,’’ Pidgeon said. The fire was under control within an hour, he said, and no injuries were reported.

Last year, area crews and officials held a 10-department drill using MacDuff Hall, a multiple-story residence next door to Matteson Hall, Pidgeon said. Officials generally have “table-top’’ drills monthly, he said, and the MacDuff Hall drill took months to plan.

The MacDuff Hall drill used a variety of equipment and emergency vehicles, including a helicopter, Pidgeon said, and crew arrivals were timed as if departments had to respond from their hometowns. About 20 “victims’’ in theatrical makeup participated, he said, and theatrical smoke was used.

Such full-scale drills are useful to assess if personnel and equipment are sufficient, Pidgeon said. Critiques of Wednesday’s response are under way, he said, and the initial feedback might result in minor operational or positional adjustments, such as where fire trucks are parked.

In the real-life situation Wednesday, 175 residents of Matteson Hall at 14 Dormitory Drive have been displaced at least temporarily. Fire and smoke damage has resulted in closure of the third floor, where the blaze began in a bedroom of a three-bedroom suite.

Pidgeon said the two residents of the room where the fire started weren’t at home, nor were two students who lived next door. The two residents of the third bedroom in the suite were present when the alarm went off, he said, and after seeing smoke, they opened the door of their neighbors’ room, saw fire, closed the door and left.

College and fire officials didn’t have a financial estimate on the cost of damages to Matteson Hall. The Oneonta Fire Department has concluded its investigation and turned the building over to the state Dormitory Authority.

Matteson Hall, a 212-bed dormitory, was built in 1966 of noncombustible materials and opened for occupancy the next year, SUNY Oneonta Director of Communications Hal Legg said Thursday.

The building isn’t required under code to have sprinkers, Legg said. In 2006, a fully integrated fire-and-smoke detector system was installed that sounds alarms throughout the building if one detector is set off.

The Oneonta Fire Department received mutual aid from West Oneonta, Otego, Laurens, Franklin, Worcester, Sidney and Treadwell fire departments, Pidgeon said.

SUNY Oneonta University Police, Otsego County Office of Emergency Services and the state Department of Homeland Security Office of Fire Prevention and Control also assisted.

SUNY Oneonta President Nancy Kleniewski in a statement said fire departments “that came to the college’s aid did a fantastic job’’ to bring the situation under control quickly and help ensure the safety of the building’s residents.