- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A portable, electric indoor grill ignited a two-alarm fire yesterday that critically injured a 19-year-old student and temporarily displaced 15 others from a George Washington University residence hall, D.C. fire officials said.

Officials said Kevin McLaughlin of Farmington, Conn., was badly burned and was not breathing when rescue crews removed him from his ninth-floor room in the Mabel Thurston Hall.

Mr. McLaughlin was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he remained in critical condition last night.

“He came home [Monday] night, fixed some food on the grill and left the electric grill running next to his bed,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department.

The university prohibits portable indoor grills in university residential halls, said Tracy Schario a university spokeswoman.

Officials said University Counseling Center staff members have been meeting with students about the incident.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kevin and his family and friends,” GWU President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said.

The fire broke out about 4:50 a.m., and an estimated 110 fire and rescue workers responded to the residence hall at 1900 F St. NW.

The blaze was confined to Mr. McLaughlin’s room, officials said. The fire, smoke and water damage prompted officials to temporarily close four rooms on the ninth floor and another on the eighth floor.

Fifteen students were assigned to alternative campus housing, said Ms. Schario, but it was expected that three of the five rooms would be reopened today.

A firefighter at the scene suffered a back injury and an off-duty Secret Service agent who stopped to help also suffered minor injuries, Mr. Etter said.

Thurston Hall houses about 1,000 students. The building is equipped with a monitored fire alarm system and sprinkler system.

Melissa Deutch, 19, an international affairs student from New York City, said she was among those evacuated.

“We were asleep. We thought at first it was a [fire alarm] drill,” said Miss Deutch, who shares a room on the fourth floor with three other students. “We almost didn’t get up. Then we decided it was too early for a drill.”

Nate Zerbib-Berda, 19, a political science student from Minnetonka, Minn., said he and his roommates were awakened by the fire alarm and waited outdoors.

“Most [dormitory residents] went to the Student Union or other dormitories,” Mr. Zerbib-Berda said. “They returned about 8 a.m.”

Fire drills are held at least once each semester, and the fire alarm bells are tested regularly, school officials said. The alarm system is certified annually.

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