Fire Policy Sparks Concerns at HMC

For Harvey Mudd College’s West Dorm, a typical night includes
a fire in the courtyard where students can gather and socialize with friends—or at least it used to.

On Friday, April 25, HMC Vice President of Student Affairs and
Dean of Students Maggie Browning sent an email to the student body saying that all fires on campus now require approval from HMC and a permit issued by the local fire station. The change has raised concerns
regarding life in the residence halls and student safety.

“We
very often hear screams of ‘West culture is dead,’” said Alex Melville HM ’15, one of the presidents of West Dorm. “It used to be ‘West is
Best.’ Now, it’s
‘West is Dead.’”

Browning wrote in her email that the changes in the fire policy are the result of conversations with the local Station 101 fire captains and
the fire inspector of Los Angeles County. The changes do not originate from the
administration, Browning wrote, but from a state law that HMC must enforce.

Additionally,
the state of California has placed a hold on the issuing of fire permits because of the current drought, so until the hold is lifted, students cannot obtain
permits for residence hall fires.

“Since
we’re in a drought and have had three major fires in the last year, I think
that it will be a while before they start issuing permits again,” wrote Michael Saffron HM ’15, president of the Associated Students of
Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC), in an email to TSL. “However, this is strictly speculation.”

As a residence hall mentor for West Dorm, Celeste
Melamed HM ’15 supports students’ emotional and physical well-being. She expressed concerns that without
a fire to bring students outside to socialize, her job of keeping students safe
will be much more difficult.

“The
fear was that there would be a trend toward instead of drinking as a community
in the courtyard, individual people or small groups are drinking alone in their
rooms,” Melamed said. “It’s a serious concern for the community.” 

Browning wrote that the fire inspector who visited HMC also approves all plans for renovation and new construction. Delays
related to the school’s fire policy could cost the college thousands of dollars in
increased construction costs. 

Melville and Saffron both said that the issue comes down to liability for both the college and the fire
department.

“I
think the school is trying to protect itself legally, as any institution
would,” Saffron wrote.

Melville noted that the fires acted as a “catalyst” for social interaction at West Dorm, however. 

“Someone lights a fire, which is really easy,
and immediately there’s a source of warmth, there’s a source of light, people
can congregate around it and start talking,” he said. “Now, the courtyard is empty.” 

Browning wrote in her email that the office would work with ASHMC’s Dormitory
Affairs Committee chairs as well as with the residence hall presidents to outline fire policy
changes in the Student Handbook. Browning also wrote that a procedure created for registering fires will be launched next fall.

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