Significant sprinkler save at a fraternity Halloween party (10-31-11)

The following is a press release and news story of how a sprinkler activation at a fraternity Halloween party in East Lansing, Michigan, with hundreds of people present, a number intoxicated, smoke alarms disabled, and multiple fires set in the house, saved lives.

Bob Pratt
Fire Marshal
East Lansing Fire Department
(517) 256-4600

East Lansing Fire Department Responds to Fire at 453 Abbot Road

EAST LANSING, Mich. – East Lansing firefighters responded to a fire this morning at 453 Abbot Road. Twenty eight residents have been displaced.

Firefighters were dispatched at 1:14 a.m. to investigate a report of a fire alarm sounding at the house. When they arrived, they found a fire in a basement storage room. The fire was contained to the room of origin by the sprinkler system.

While completing search and rescue, several other fires were discovered and extinguished. Responders noticed that multiple smoke detectors were tampered with. Fire suppression efforts were hampered by the occupants' incapacitation and failure to evacuate.

An investigation is ongoing but an accidental cause has been ruled out. "We're very fortunate not to have had a significant loss of life and more significant property loss," said Fire Marshal Bob Pratt.

According to research compiled by Campus Firewatch (, five common factors in a number of off-campus fires include:

  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Impaired judgment from alcohol consumption
  • Fires originating on upholstered furniture on decks or porches

Fire Marshal: Multiple fires at Theta Chi intentionally started

No one was injured after multiple fires were intentionally started at Theta Chi fraternity house early Friday morning, East Lansing Fire Marshal Bob Pratt said.

All accidental causes of the fire have been ruled out, Pratt said.

The fire was contained to one room after an automatic sprinkler system at the house turned on. Without the sprinkler system, the fire could have ended in tragedy, Pratt said.

"We dodged a bullet here," Pratt said. "Had the building not been (protected by) sprinklers, there very easily could've been multiple deaths."

The fraternity was holding a party at the house on 453 Abbot Road when the building caught on fire, Pratt said. Firefighters first responded at about 1 a.m.

During the fire investigation, multiple smoke detectors were found with cut wires, and some completely were removed, he said.

Tampering with fire protection devices is a criminal offense, and Pratt said he will issue citations to the fraternity.

Pratt also said several people refused to evacuate the building, or could not because they were incapacitated.

Some occupants were so intoxicated they remained unconscious even as the fire alarms were sounding, he said.

Some of the sprinkler heads also had been covered up and used as clothing racks, Pratt said.

The alumni own and manage the property on 453 Abbot Road.

The house last was inspected on July 15 and found in compliance with housing requirements by the East Lansing Department of Code Enforcement and Neighborhood Conservation.

"Just like any other … rental property, we adhere to a rather vigorous inspection," Lomonaco said. "The safety of the guys living there is our No. 1 priority."

All the members were forced to stay with friends last night or find other sleeping arrangements during the investigation.

The exact cost of damage to the home has not yet been estimated, but will be substantial because of water damage from the sprinkler system and damage from firemen breaking doors in their attempts to evacuate occupants, Pratt said.

No damage to the home was visible from the outside.

Once the sprinkler system is reset and the smoke detectors are functioning, Theta Chi members can live in the house in a few days, Pratt said.