UNO Dorm Reopens Six Months After Fire

By: Brian Mastre, Lena Tillett Email
By: Brian Mastre, Lena Tillett Email
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Six months after a fire heavily damaged a UNO dorm, Scott Village's Building G has reopened and students began moving in Sunday for the fall semester.

Insurance covered the $2.3 million repair bill. The rooms pretty much look like the old dorms and the floor plans are the same with some fire prevention upgrades made. The university says improvements have made it more fireproof, like changing the siding from vinyl to cement and replacing wood decks with composite decking materials. Both materials are less flammable.

Was anyone leery about moving in? “I wasn't really sure, but we haven't had any at all,” says Scott Village Housing Director Jonathan Orlich. Many of the students actually wanted to live in Building G since it is the newest of the bunch.

A discarded cigarette butt sparked the February 26th fire on a wooden deck, forcing dozens of students to find another place to live. UNO has a smoking ban in dorms and campus buildings and incoming freshmen will reminded of that along with other safety precautions in the student handbook when they move in.

The Zach Taylor family remembers the fire but were okay with moving into the dorm on Sunday. It seems like a real-world beginning towards the freshman's engineering degree. "When I'm older, I'll build my own houses and try to reconstruct houses in Omaha."

$2.3-million dollars in insurance money covered the 2nd and 3rd floor rebuild. The decks now have a sprinkler system. It wasn't code to have them when the dorms were first built in 2003.

We also learned Sunday during the tour, how the housing director played a key -- yet dangerous role in finding precious items in the debris.

Remember the story of Kayla Caumeran? She lost her bridesmaid dresses in the fire. Jonathan Orlich retrieved them -- just as he did family heirlooms, passports and computers. "Because of the tragedy - because of what the students had to go through -- it was nice to be able to find something that they -- memorabilia that they could really hold onto from that time."

Parent Kris Swenson hopes the university will use the accident as a teaching opportunity. “It's a graphic reminder to the students of what can happen and so I think it's a great time to really reinforce and talk to them, maybe in more detail, about safety issues."

“You're kind of hoping everybody else will take care of their room and take care of themselves because one person can have something happen and that might affect the whole community,” says her son, incoming freshman Alex Swenson.

Papillion Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Jones reminds students to observe that smoking ban in dorms, but if someone does smoke, make sure the cigarette is put out before disposal.

Students who have a coffee pot or hot plate need to make sure it's turned off when leaving their room and don't overload circuits with too many appliances. Make sure charging cords aren't frayed and extension cords are UL approved. It'll have a special logo on the product if it is. And review the evacuation plan to make sure you know where exits and windows are so you can get out of a burning building. That’s the first thing he told his son when he dropped him off at college.

“When I walked into his dorm for the first time my first comment was, know where the stairwell is because some of those buildings are six, seven stories high and there's a lot of kids in them so it's important to know where you're going and how to get out. Become familiar with the building.”

Once evacuated, students need to let firefighters know they're safe so crews don't keep looking for them.

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