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Love & Honor & Carbon Monoxide

250 students dead in carbon monoxide leak at Hillcrest Hall.

In another universe — a universe where two unlikely heroes didn’t keep a personal carbon monoxide detector in their dorm room— this would have been my fate. I would have walked to my dorm after world politics class, slid under my comforter, breathed in high levels of carbon monoxide, and had no carbon monoxide detectors to wake me before I died during my afternoon nap.

Thank God, that’s not how my Thursday went.

Instead, on my walk back to Hillcrest, I saw a crowd of firetrucks and police officers. My first reaction was “Oh, Havinghurst is probably having another fire alarm incident, that’s pretty funny.” 

I didn’t think anything of it.

I kept walking until I was stopped by a police officer, who notified me of the emergency at hand. I wasn’t scared when I heard the news; I was just surprised. I had forgotten that carbon monoxide poisoning was even a thing that happened. 

Moments later, my phone was erupting with notifications from my hallmates. Everyone was confused. Everyone was shocked. My friends were evacuated wearing nothing but shower shoes; evacuated without cell phones, laptops, winter coats and medications. 

They thought they were leaving for a fire drill. None of us had any idea how long we would be out of the building.

In the meantime, the Miami community came together to support one another the best we could.

A friend in Stonebridge gave a friend in Hillcrest clothes to wear to her concert performance. My friend’s roommate in Beechwoods let me use her laptop charger so I could work on my homework. Residence Life ordered us snacks and pizzas while we hung out in the Beechwoods lobby. When it became clear that we wouldn’t be going back to Hillcrest overnight, multiple upperclassmen from my clubs & organizations reached out to me to offer me a place to stay.

Never have I seen so much love and honor from the Miami community. 

At the same time, I have never felt so neglected.

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Throughout the night, I kept hearing the same rumor: the only reason the leak was detected was because a student had a personal carbon monoxide detector, and Hillcrest didn’t actually have carbon monoxide detectors.

At first, I didn’t believe it. Why would any public building that houses hundreds of students not have a carbon monoxide detector? Isn’t this just standard practice?

Turns out, Ohio laws regarding carbon monoxide detectors are full of exceptions. Because Hillcrest Hall is a building that operates with geothermal energy, carbon monoxide detectors are not required. The incident that happened Thursday was caused by a malfunction with our hot water heater that caused exhaust to leak into our building—a highly unlikely incident that the university probably thought would never happen.

But unlikely things do happen. And it is the responsibility of the university to never let a near-tragedy like this happen again.

Words cannot describe how grateful I am for my hallmates who saved my life. But students should not have to be heroes. 

It is the basic responsibility of our university to protect its students, and when a randomly-purchased $15 carbon monoxide detector does more to save lives than an administration, that means something needs to change around here.

In a university-wide email to students, the Institutions Response team announced, “We have installed temporary carbon monoxide detectors in Hillcrest Hall and in an abundance of caution are determining how best to install them in all halls as a permanent system.”

I am relieved that the university installed plug-in carbon monoxide detectors, but putting temporary solutions in my dorm is not enough to reassure the entire student body. It is not enough to tell students that the administration is “determining” how to install carbon monoxide detectors in other halls.

Buy the detectors now. Plug them into the walls now. What is there to “determine” about preventing student deaths? Why not implement temporary detectors in all halls as you continue to plan a permanent detection system?

I love living on-campus at Miami. I have made some of my closest friends living in Hillcrest these past few months, and I still consider my dorm to be my home away from home. In the wake of this incident, Miami has the opportunity to make things right.

Train students how to detect early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Assign every hall a designated gathering place for students to meet up at in case the building has to be evacuated. Check buildings not only for carbon monoxide, but other toxic gases like radon that could possibly be affecting student health.

If all Hillcrest students were as unprepared as Miami was for a carbon monoxide leak, 250 students would be returning home for Thanksgiving break in caskets. Let’s make sure our administration doesn’t forget this.

perkin16@miamioh.edu 

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