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Sprinkler System Floods Montauk Hall, Students Displaced for Hours

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

By Saba Mann and Lexie Zanghi | November 8, 2021

Montauk Hall, located in Indigenous Quad, was flooded last week after a student activated the sprinkler system and hung an article of clothing from the sprinkler head in their room, as determined by the fire department. Students were displaced for more than five hours.

At 4:39 p.m., the University Police Department was alerted to an activated fire alarm, and one officer had responded initially. After discovering the sprinkler system was running, three more officers and a supervisor then responded to the scene, as that could indicate a potential fire in the building.

UPD believes the cause was accidental, and no criminal charges have been filed.

A senator during a Student Association meeting on Oct. 27 voiced their frustration by the delay in communication.

“They sent a late email that was vague and did not tell students when they could come home. Students were walking around in bathrobes and slides in 40-degree weather, displaced for 6 hours without any resources. Students were denied from getting their prescription medication,” Senator Vaitkus said during public comment at a Student Association meeting, urging the Senate to work with Residential Life to create a better protocol.

Other senators voiced their concerns about the asbestos in other buildings, holding people accountable, and that the issue could have happened in any quad.

However, Michael Christakis, Vice President for Student Affairs, debunked that statement, saying that the sprinklers are capped in certain buildings.

“I want to highlight the terrific work that our facilities staff did. Residential Life is only employed to do so much,” Christakis said.

Christakis said the situation isn’t easy to manage, citing a similar incident that occurred in 2001, with the “whole building dumped” and students needing to be relocated.

“It is easy to sit and criticize staff as they respond, but I caution you. Especially when you don’t include all elements of the fact,” Christakis said.

Christakis, who supervises Residential Life, defended the group, saying they can’t turn off the water for the sprinkler heads, and, to his understanding, made extra efforts to open the dining halls for a longer timeframe. He also credited Vice President of Finance and Administration Todd Foreman for being on the site of the incident to speed the response. Foreman said they worked “quickly” to move students back into the building.

“This was a stressful incident for many students. Despite that, from what UPD observed, the vast majority handled it with patience and understanding, which doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Paul Burlingame, Chief of UAlbany Police Department.


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