Malone University and select resident students from Penn and Gurney Halls were threatened with possible criminal charges from the Canton fire department after a fire was set to a couch at the Davenport Derby last Thursday. The charges are in response to fire codes, related to outdoor burning, being disregarded during a performance the students put on during the competition.
The team under scrutiny was made up of members from both Lower Penn and Upper Gurney. Their theme at this year’s race was “Neanderthals.” They intended the performance to portray the invention of fire by primitive man. After the fire was lite the group proceeded to scream and celebrate their creation. The celebration stopped abruptly when the fire extinguisher the team intended to put out the fire failed to stop the spread of the flame.
“I guess I didn’t think the fire was that big, I thought that maybe it would go out or If we needed to we could get a little bit of water … it turned out to be a little harder to get out than I thought,” said a resident of Upper Gurney and a member of the “Neanderthal” team.
The fire was eventually extinguished after students sought out water from various sources nearby, which included a container of melted ice from AVI Foodsystems’ buffet dinner setup.
Because of the threat of charges, the Celebration bonfire which was set for Thursday, October 1 was canceled. The Canton fire department, who had given permission for the Bon fire, revoked the permit after the Davenport incident. It does not appear, at this time, that the bonfire will be rescheduled for a later date.
The Canton Fire Department, who had contacted the campus about possible charges, heard about the incident through the Canton Repository. The newspaper had published a photo of the students and the burning couch in a recent issue. Many students who witnessed the event posted their own photos and videos depicting the burning couch on social media.
Seeing the danger such images posed to the fire marshal’s investigation, university relations removed any of Malone’s social media posts that mentioned the incident. The administration asked students — including the Aviso, which had raw footage of the incident on its website — to do the same.
When asked why these posts were removed, Chris Abrams, Vice President of the Malone University, said “I think it is appropriate for us to do everything we can do to not be endorsing [the couch burning].”
In addition to removal of the photos and video, the Malone administration has cooperated fully with the local fire marshal and required students to write letters of apology to the officials at the fire department.
Abrams said, “We’d really like to have [students involved] as well as the institution respond in an apologetic way to … in many ways the Canton community, but directly to the fire chief, the fire marshal, and the safety director for the city. This was not necessarily something that everyone knew that was a planned event and in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea.”
While there are no concrete plans made to hedge against future incidents, Abrams is expecting a possible need to educate students… about the laws of which they may need to abide to keep the community safe.
“That’s the concern: people’s safety,” said Dave Burnip, director of Campus Safety. “The fire department, it’s their job. That’s what they’re concerned about, that’s what they fight every day, that’s what they live and breathe every day. And they know what can happen, a fire can get out of control in a hurry and I think that’s their biggest concern.”
For the safety of the community, Burnip wants students to take an “extra step” before campus events to find out if certain actions are permitted by Campus Safety or administration. These questions can prevent further incidents and inform students about laws within their area to protect themselves and the community from any possible harm.
Charley Garwood is a contributing writer for The Aviso