Tutor Arraigned for East Campus FireBy Douglas E. Heimburger
Editor in Chief
The Graduate Resident Tutor for the fourth floor of East Campus' west parallel was arraigned yesterday for arson in connection with a fire at the dormitory late Friday night.
The fire burned carpeting and a bulletin board of photographs outside the room of the GRT, Dimitri J. Kountourogiannis G.
Kountourogiannis received first and second-degree burns from the fire. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment and subsequently released.
The fire allegedly started when Kountourogiannis poured an accelerating chemical on the carpeting of the floor, spelling out "41," the hall's moniker, and then set it on fire.
The fire sprinklers did not shut off normally and caused water damage to all floors beneath the fire location near the Monroe stairwell.
Cambridge Fire Department reports estimated damage from the suspiciousfire at $15,000.
The fire alarm failed to activate properly, but the fire department responded at 3:59 a.m. when a water flow report indicated that sprinklers in the building had discharged.
When officials arrived on the scene at 4:08 a.m. Saturday morning, they "found students in the smoke, playing music and partying," according to the fire department report.
The fire department immediately ordered the complete evacuation of the building until they could fully assess the situation.
By the time the fire department arrived, two sprinklers had doused the fire, which was mainly fueled by a sleeping bag and the cork bulletin board, the report said.
Kountourogiannis was arraigned yesterday on one count of setting fire to a dwelling in Cambridge District Court. A pre-trial hearing will be held on Nov. 10, court officials said.
If convicted, Kountourogiannis could face imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Brian Heffron, spokesman for the Middlesex County District Attorney, could not be reached for comment on the case yesterday.
Kountourogiannis suffered burns when he "got a sleeping bag and tried to smother"the fire, said Associate Dean for Residence Life and Student Life Programs Andrew S. Eisenmann '70.
The administration is currently investigating the incident, said Dean forStudent Life Margaret R. Bates. MITdisciplinary action will likely wait until after the criminal action is complete, she said.
Kountourogiannis has been suspended as a GRTand reassigned elsewhere in the housing system, Eisenmann said.
Damage less than expected
East Campus Housemaster Jed Z. Buchwald said that damage to the dormitory was limited despite the flow of water from the sprinklers and the initial fire damage.
Immediately after the fire, all rooms that had water in them were vacuumed out and cleaned, Buchwald said. Painters and other workers from the Department of Facilities will clean up the fourth floor later this week.
The damage was "much much less than Iwould have thought,"Buchwald said.When the building was evacuated, there was a "river of water pouring down the stairs" from the sprinklers.
The sprinkler system remained on from an extended period of time because "evidently the fire department had trouble figuring out how to turn the sprinkler system off,"Buchwald said. Under state law, only the fire department can turn off sprinklers or alarm systems.
All students have returned to their rooms except one on the fourth floor, who is being housed elsewhere until the smoke smell clears the area, Buchwald said.
Residents of the floor have already met with Buchwald "several times"to discuss the issues raised by the incident. Additionally, the tutors from the floors above and below the fourth floor are filling in for the GRT, and the dorm will be "moving forward as soon as we can on getting a new tutor," Buchwald said.
Fire alarm system failed to work
Immediately after the fire, concerns were raised about the fire alarm system at East Campus, which failed to sound an audible alarm.
The fire department initially wanted to keep students out of the building until the system could be fixed. Instead, housing officials were placed on each floor as a fire watch, Eisenmann said.
The system was repaired Saturday so that it does sound alarms, Buchwald said.
Fire officials also had concerns with "people keeping things in hallways,"he said.
Saturday morning, students were required to remove all materials including posters and signs from East Campus hallways before fire officials conducted a formal inspection of the building, said East Campus President Kai-Yuh Hsiao '99.
"At 8:30 a.m., [they] decided to come through the entire dorm pointing at things and telling us things are bad,"Hsiao said. "I really thought they had a stormtrooper effect."
"There can be no blockages in the hall at all,"Buchwald said. "You should be able to run from one end to the other without tripping on anything."
Additionally, students were required to remove all non-MITinstalled wiring from hallways, Buchwald said. "There was stuff that really couldn't be there."
Eisenmann and Buchwald metyesterday with the Safety Office and the Department of Facilities to begin reviewing the "life safety" systems of East Campus - sprinklers, alarms, and emergency power - to ensure that they are satisfactory, Buchwald said.
In the coming weeks, inspections will also be made of the other dormitories to ensure their systems are working, Eisenmann said. The group convened today will "look at all the issues that get raised" during this process and suggest improvements to the safety systems in the dormitories.
Buchwald said that while the safety systems at East Campus are old, they are "not in horrible shape."
A general meeting of East Campus residents will be held on Friday to talk about issues related to evacuations, Buchwald said. "Some people simply weren't paying attention; others didn't get out because the alarm didn't sound."
Dorm last inspected in 1985
Cambridge Fire Department Lieutenant Barry Lynde said that the department does not regularly inspect dormitories as they fall under the residence heading, similar to private homes.
MITwould have to request that the fire department do a formal inspection of the facility, Lynde said.
Only primary and secondary schools are required to be inspected under state law, Lynde said.
The last formal Cambridge inspection of the dormitory was done on Sept. 26, 1985, fire department records show.
Lynde said that MITgenerally had a good record with keeping its sprinkler and alarm systems functional and up to date.
Officials from the Safety Office were not available for comment yesterday on their inspectional record forEast Campus.