UI student error with gas stoves in Mayflower cause fire evacuations

There have been six fire alarm evacuations in Mayflower Residence Hall this semester, and some residents want more information on why they occur so often.


Larry Phan

Mayflower Residence Hall is shown in Iowa City on Sunday, May 1, 2022.

Colin Votzmeyer, News Reporter

Residents at the University of Iowa Mayflower Residence Hall have shuffled out of their dorm for multiple fire alarms evacuations this semester — sometimes early in the morning­ — to cross North Dubuque Street and stand next to the skate park where they wait for permission to go back inside.

UI officials attribute the number of fire evacuations to Mayflower’s gas stoves. The UI reported six alarm activations in Mayflower so far this semester, but only one activation on Aug. 25 resulted from an actual fire — an oven fire on the eighth floor.

Hayley Bruce, UI Department of Public Safety assistant director for communication and external relations, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that resident assistants and building coordinators are given details by first responders after a residence hall alarm or evacuation.

“Students are encouraged to communicate directly with their RA if they have questions or concerns following an evacuation/incident,” Bruce wrote. “We appreciate students’ cooperation and timely response to these alarms. It is extremely important that students take all fire alarms seriously and follow evacuation instructions to ensure their safety.”

Allie Pitz, a resident of Mayflower Residence Hall and a UI first-year student studying sports and recreation management and communications, said residents have never been told why they are evacuated, so they have had to “specifically force it out of the the staff.”

“They don’t tell us anything, and it makes me scared for my safety living in Mayflower,” Pitz said. “I don’t know why it shouldn’t just be procedure that after a fire alarm they just tell us what happened.”

UI Director of Residence Education Greg Thompson wrote in an email to the DI that the fire department responds in the case of an alarm and inspects the scene until it is determined to be safe for students to return inside.

“Generally, we do not issue a formal explanation of a building evacuation,” Thompson stated. “However, hall staff and RAs are able to notify students of the reason for the evacuation.”

The UI Department of Public Safety has a fire log that includes reported fires in residence halls since 2012:

  • Mayflower Residence Hall has had nine fires.
  • Slater Residence Hall has had four fires.
  • Hillcrest Residence Hall has had two fires.
  • Burge Residence Hall has had two fires.
  • Currier Residence Hall has had two fires.
  • Parklawn Residence Hall has had two fires.
  • Rienow Residence Hall has had one fire.
  • Petersen Residence Hall has had one fire since opening in 2015.
  • Stanley Residence Hall has had one fire.
  • Catlett Residence Hall has had zero fires since it opened in 2018.

Bruce wrote Mayflower staff might pull the fire alarm for many reasons, such as the smell of gas or something burning. In cases where there isn’t an actual fire, the alarms are not included in the fire log.

“Mayflower Hall tends to experience more of these incidents because the units are apartment-style and include a kitchen with a gas stove,” she wrote. “When students arrive on campus, many find themselves cooking with unfamiliar equipment or cooking on their own for the first time, which can lead to mishaps — especially when they don’t keep an eye on what they’re cooking.”

RELATED: Mayflower evacuated after reported gas smell, now resolved

Logan Daniels, a UI first-year student studying sports and recreation management and Mayflower resident, said the issue stems from students not understanding how to use their appliances.

“It seems like everyone just needs to be more informed, and it seems like a very baseline thing,” he said.

Daniels said he wished the university provided them with more information during evacuations because they cause panic.

“I’d say it is kind of an ‘every man for himself’ feeling,” he said. “I’m not really informed at all about what happens. Whether or not that’s my business. I’d say it is to at least have a basic understanding of what happens to prevent future issues, but when something’s happening in my building, I’d like to know what’s going on.”

Bruce stated the UI Department of Public Safety is open to providing students with fire safety training and prevention information. Thompson also stated students should be aware of how to use the appliances in their dorms.

“Mayflower residents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the operation of their gas ovens and stovetops to reduce the occurrence of fire alarms,” Thompson wrote. “They are also reminded to be sure that they should not leave food unattended while cooking.”

Still, Pitz said residents are not instructed on how to prevent these incidents beyond a video on gas stoves they received during the first week of school.

She has had to call maintenance six times this semester because appliances in her room have stopped working, citing mechanical issues instead of resident error.

Pitz said Mayflower would be a great place to live if the staff could make changes like sending texts about what happened after an evacuation, issuing reminders on how to be safe, and updating the kitchens.

“To me, it doesn’t feel like their priority is to keep us safe,” Pitz said. “Just for the pure fact that I’m scared for my safety, it makes it hard to live here.”