posted 2011-04-06 13:00:09

Fire breaks out in Hunter College Cafeteria

The cafeteria post-fire. The entryway to the alrge cafeteria has been walled off. (Photo: Daniel Szumski/Envoy)
The cafeteria post-fire. The entryway to the alrge cafeteria has been walled off. (Photo: Daniel Szumski/Envoy)
Café Fresh on Fire

Fire breaks out in Hunter College Cafeteria

Scott Klocksin

Staff Writer

On March 21st, a fire broke out in the third floor cafeteria of the West Building.

Normally an oasis of tranquility at 9:00 p.m. on a Monday, the courtyard near the entrance to the 68th St. subway station was abuzz with evacuating students and faculty, shuffling to make way for firefighters clad in heavy yellow suits.

The fire, which closed the cafeteria for one week, started in the compressor motor of a machine designed to keep food cold, according to Leonard Zinnanti, Acting Chief Operating Officer. “The fire was contained to the southernmost part of the servery and was quickly suppressed,” Zinnanti said. “The ceiling tiles were burned as well as other machinery and signage,” he added.

Several students who were in classes in the West Building when the fire broke out said fire alarms in their classrooms did not go off, but that they heard alarms in nearby hallways.

Those using the library in the East Building reported being evacuated by staff members and were told to use stairs instead of escalators or elevators.

Andrew Lund, a professor in the Film & Media Department, said he was in the North Building at around 9:00pm, and smelled smoke but heard no fire alarm and was not evacuated.

Kim Bailey, a senior who was attending a statistics class in the West Building, said that one student noted that they had smelled gas after hearing a barely-audible hallway alarm. After about two minutes of the ceaseless alarm, she said, students began to trickle out of the class.

Tiffany Gentry, a senior, was in a class on Classics when she heard the blare of a fire alarm. After a few minutes, “the professor said 'if it's a big deal, they'll come get us,'” she said. According to Gentry, students were told by the professor to leave if they felt compelled to do so, but the class was not cut short. She stayed until the end.

Zinnanti said in an email to The Envoy that he was unaware of any previous fires “in that area” of the campus.

Provisions were put into place beginning the day after the fire to offset disruptions to the routines of members of the Hunter community. The Faculty Dining Room on the eighth floor of the West Building was opened to students and extended its hours during the closure, Zinnanti said. The Starbucks kiosk in the West Lobby also widened its selection of food to help account for the temporary loss of the cafeteria. The cafeteria has now reopened with a slightly diminished selection of food.

The FDNY Press office said that the fire was designated as “under control” at 9:33 p.m., 37 minutes after an initial 911 call was placed, adding that the fire was an “all-hands” effort involving twelve units—roughly 60 firefighters—from the Engine 39, Ladder 16 Firehouse on East 67th St. The Fire Department also confirmed that there were no injuries resulting from the fire.

“There's a tendency to assume that [a fire in a public place is] not happening or it's not real,” Gentry said, her face intermittently taking on the red tint thrown up by a bombardment of flashing emergency lights.