Get Out and Stay Alive: Student Housing Fire Survival

As summer was approaching and the spring semester at college campuses throughout the Commonwealth was starting to wrap-up, Pennsylvania experienced a tragic fire that took the lives of 5 students at a Bloomsburg University fraternity house. This fire was one of more than 1,700 fires that happen, on average, annually in college student housing facilities across the nation.

Prior to the fatal fire at Bloomsburg, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and the Penn State Chapter of the Acacia Fraternity were working on a program that would address the serious issue of fires in student housing. The idea for the program came from the Acacia Fraternity at Penn State University after another student housing fire took the lives of several students at Seton Hall, N.J. This fire brought national attention to the issue. When the Acacians learned of R.W. Grand Master Robert L. Dluge, Jr.'s interest in fire safety, the chapter believed it would be a perfect issue for the two fraternities to address by developing a program that would educate college students on fire safety and survival.

Grand Master Dluge presented the Acacia Venerable Dean, John E. Ziegler (second from left), with his medallion after he was presented with the jeweled badge of the Acacia Fraternity and a $200 check to be used towards the Grand Master's Little League project. On hand to support the Fire Safety program were R.W.'s Marvin G. Speicher (left), Grand Treasurer and Ronald A. Aungst, Sr. (right), Junior Grand Warden.
When the Grand Master learned of the Acacians proposal for a fire safety program, he immediately gave his support. Larry G. Hettich, D.D.G.M., who had already been helping the Acacia chapter to strengthen its relationship with the Masons, worked with the Acacia chapter's Venerable Dean, John E. Ziegler, in developing the program. News of the program spread throughout the University's administration and created much anticipation and support from the faculty and students. The Interfraternity Council also gave their support by requiring all new fraternity members at Penn State, the nation's largest fraternity system, to attend the seminar.

The program was a first of its kind to be conducted on the Penn State campus. Receiving much attention from the local TV, radio, and print media, the program featured world-renowned former Chief Fire Investigator for the National Fire Protection Agency, Ed Comeau along with Bonnie Woodruff who lost her son in 1996 to one of our nation's worst fraternity house fires at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Centre Region Senior Fire and Housing Inspector, Tim Knisely, who inspects the students housing facilities in State College, also presented the local safety issues facing students and his department's concern over the 15 fires that have occurred at Penn State during the past two years.

Bonnie Woodruff receiving the Grand Master's medallion for her dedication to raising national awareness for the need to improve the safety conditions of student housing facilities.
Grand Master Dluge sharing fire stories with the featured speaker, Ed Comeau, prior to the start of the program.
The two-hour program was opened by the Grand Master, who shared a past experience of a time when he and his fellow volunteer fire fighters were called to fight a fire they knew would result in the loss of lives. He then encouraged the fully packed room of nearly 350 college students to take the evening's program seriously and share the knowledge they would gain from the seminar with their fellow classmates.

The audience then heard from the featured speakers and watched a video that stressed safety tips and measures that can be taken to handle and prevent fires in student housing. The evening ended with an emotional story from Bonnie Woodruff, who traveled from North Carolina to share her experience of losing her son to a fraternity house fire during a parent-sponsored graduation party.

The program was such a success that Grand Master Dluge is considering taking this program, or one similar to it, across the Commonwealth to college campuses where there are chapters of the Acacia Fraternity. The Acacia Fraternity is a national college fraternity for undergraduates, based on Masonic principles and founded in 1904 by 14 Master Masons.

Grand Lodge Public Relations Director, Bro. James N. Katsaounis (right), who is an Acacian from Ohio University, discusses Freemasonry with several members of the Acacia Fraternity during a dinner reception held at the Acacia chapter house prior to the program.
This program parallels the Grand Master's Fire Safety program for all Lodges, (click here for details).

Return to Events 2000 © 2000, The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania | Credits HOME