Early morning sprinkler forces residents out of Seton Hall


(Photo courtesy of DePaul University)

Jonathan Ballew, Assistant News Editor

In the frigid early hours on Thursday, residents of Seton Hall awoke to alarms.

At 6 a.m., students shuffled down the stairways as cascading streams of water nipped at their ankles. The incident caused quite a commotion and the building had to be completely evacuated.

Director of Housing Services Rick Moreci said that a faulty sprinkler head is to blame.

“It was one sprinkler head and it was in the main hallway itself,” Moreci said. “It had nothing to do with weather or any human factor.  It just kind of activated itself.”

Moreci said that sprinkler heads don’t usually go off without cause.

“In all my years of being here, I can’t remember a time when a sprinkler head went off by itself,” he said.

When asked about the potential water damage to the dorms, Moreci said, “We were very very lucky.”

Moreci said that the flooding only affected a couple of student lounges and only a few student rooms.  The damage to student rooms was minimal, with no property damage and only a small amount of water leaked under the doors.

Early morning sprinkler forces residents out of Seton Hall from The DePaulia on Vimeo.

Riley Cox is a resident of Seton Hall and woke up to fire alarms early in the morning.

“We opened the door to the stairwell and we got soaking wet,” Cox said.

Cox and her roommate were worried about the cold temperatures after getting drenched.  Cox lives on the 4th floor where the sprinkler head went off.

Cox said that at first many of her friends thought there must have been a fire due to the alarm. After making it outside they began to realize their initial thoughts were incorrect.

“We noticed there were no fire trucks or smell, so we figured it couldn’t be a fire,” she said.

What Cox and many other residents do remember is a terrible smell, saying “A lot of people thought it was a gas leak.”

While many may have attributed the unpleasant odor to a gas leak, DePaul officials confirmed that there was no such leak. Instead what the students were likely smelling was water from the sprinkler system.

According to a representative from the Oak Park Fire Department, oftentimes sprinkler systems can have a foul odor because they hold gallons of old and possibly moldy water.

While most students were ushered to the Welcome Center to avoid the freezing temperatures, not everyone made it out of the building. Clare Ruddy is a resident of Seton Hall who never evacuated her room.  Ruddy said she slept through the initial alarm and was unaware that she needed to leave.

“Someone from the school unlocked my door to check if I was in my room,” she said.  “But by the time I realized what was going on, they had already left, so I went back to sleep.” 

Ruddy woke up later only to realize that everyone in her dorm was gone. “It was kind of scary,” she said.  By the time Rudy could find a maintenance worker to find out what was going on, the evacuation was over and students were being let back into the building.

Students were only out of the building for about a half hour and had to use the alternate stairwell for part of the day.

“It was kind of an all hands on deck situation so it was brought under control immediately,” Moreci said.

This is the first flood since McGowan South suffered a water main break in February of 2016. Several inches of water streamed down the stairs and settled on the ground floor, causing weeks of repair operations.

Benjamin Conboy contributed to this story.