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Fire extinguisher thefts spark concern on campus

The recent spate of fire extinguisher thefts on campus have UNB Security issuing a sober warning to thieves: you could cost someone their life.

In two separate incidents last month, fire extinguishers were taken late at night from Bridges House and Joy W. Kidd House, in one case left to discharge in the road. According to Bruce Rogerson, director of UNB security and traffic, one suspect was caught on Graham Avenue trying to put out a couch fire with the stolen extinguisher. The other extinguishers were eventually found, discarded nearby.

The thefts come on the heels of the Sept. 4 arson incident that damaged the main doors of the Forestry & Geology building, causing approximately $35,000 – $40,000 worth of damage.

“That’s [money] that could have gone into the student experience — for new desks, new technology,” said Rogerson. He believes the recent incidents are interrelated in their lack of respect for fire safety.

“It’s serious business if you start fooling around [with fire],” he said. “I thought I’d better send people a wake-up call.”

Rogerson is referring to the bulletin posted on the UNB Portal last week, which referenced the Jan. 19, 2000 Boland Hall residence fire at Seton Hall University, where three students died and 58 students were injured — most due to students ignoring the fire alarm.

“They got so used to the false fire alarms going off all the time, so they just stayed in bed until a proctor knocked on their door and told them to get out,” said Rogerson. “In that case, there was no one around to knock on doors so they had to get out themselves.”

Kyle Merritt, a proctor at Bridges House, said that his team was quick to replace the stolen extinguishers and re-emphasize the importance of respecting firefighting equipment. Still, concerns linger regarding the thieves’ motivation.

“We really aren’t sure who, or why someone would risk tampering with any sort of fire equipment,” he said.

“At this point, we haven’t had anyone come forward but have made it explicitly clear just how dangerous it is to utilize or tamper with this equipment,” he said.

“[The Fredericton Fire Department] and UNB Security demonstrated [through the Burn the Dorm event] just how quickly fire can spread in the residence environment, which really puts things into perspective. Reality check, people — this is a lifesaving piece of equipment, not a play toy.”

UNBSU residence representative Arielle Rechnitzer chalks the thefts up to youthful immaturity moreso than harmful intent.

“I think it’s extremely pointless and immature. It’s clear everywhere you go that there are consequences to pulling fire alarms and tampering with fire safety equipment,” she said.

“Certain people just have mischievous personalities and aren’t thinking of the consequences — if they are thinking of the consequences, they’re enjoying the thrills of trying not to get caught.”

Still, Rogerson has plans in mind to help prevent issues like this in the future.

“We do plan on installing more security cameras, but we’re trying to move forward with our campus watch program, so people feel comfortable reporting [incidents] — they can remain anonymous, either through us or Crime Stoppers,” he said.

“It’s their community, and that involves partnerships, sharing of information and working for problem-solving solutions.”

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