Flaming Printer Ignites Reevaluation of E.H. Little Library’s Fire Precautions

Jack Dowell-

During Davidson’s most recent snow day, havoc broke out in the E.H. Little Library when a printer burst into flames after internal malfunctions; no one was injured in this incident. Photo by Ian Hicks

At 11:30 am on January 18th in the E.H. Little Library, during one of Davidson’s few snow days, Ian Hicks ‘17 was alerted by a student that “the printer is smoking.” Despite the lack of fire alarms going off, when the Research, Teaching, and Collections Assistant reached the printer, it was indeed “billowing black smoke.”

The smoke quickly turned into a fire, but thanks to Hicks’ quick action, it was extinguished before it could spread. So what went wrong, and what’s being done to fix it?

The library printers have long been a source of trouble for the library staff. Aukse Praneviciute ‘18, a student Library Information and Research Assistant, estimated that she ends up dealing with a printer issue “at least once a day.”

The issues range from the more common jams, which she described as being very simple to fix, to issues with the PawPrinter system, which require her to reach out to the Technology and Innovation office.

While the printers continue to cause issues, Praneviciute, who has worked at the library for three years, did claim that “the printers have been working better this year.”

Tyler Blair ‘21, a former student technician with the Technology and Innovation office, also described dealing with printers as a large part of his position, both restocking printers “whether with paper or toner,” and dealing with problems “through tickets that were submitted.”

Again, much like Praneviciute, Blair did not commonly see major issues with the printers, saying that in the month he worked there, he “only had to deal with a big issue once.”

So what happened the day of the incident? The first major factor was that Davidson College’s offices were closed due to snow. According to Client Services Manager Jeremy Martin, “Shifts are optional for students when there’s an administrative leave day.” 

Hicks, a recent addition to the staff, seconded this, saying, “Usually if it’s optional it means no one’s coming in.” As such, Hicks was one of the few people working that day.

Around 11:30, Hicks was at the Information Desk when “a student nonchalantly comes over from the other side of the fishbowl and says ‘the printer is smoking.’” After being convinced that the student was serious, Hicks rushed over to the printer and decided to unplug it to control the situation.

Next, Hicks ran to the back office, “the only place [he] knew there was a fire extinguisher.” By the time he returned to the printer “the smoke had gotten even worse,” and after opening up the printer he found “paper just jammed onto this heating element.” Immediately afterwards, the printer “erupted into orange flames.”

Hicks was quickly able to extinguish the flames, and the fire remained out. Over the next few days, the printer was quickly restored to functionality.

Nevertheless, this incident brought several issues to the eyes of the Davidson community. According to Hicks, “No fire alarms ever actually went off … That’s not supposed to happen.”

Martin, when asked about the cause of the alarm’s failure to activate, responded, “We don’t know yet, and all we know is that Physical Plant is investigating it.”

Hicks additionally suggested further education through “[student] orientation programs or yearly reviews of fire protocols.” He noted that many students, perhaps demonstrating the Davidson work ethic, remained in the area while the fire incident occurred; this was despite Hicks announcing, “You might not want to keep studying around here; this might get bad.”

Knowledge of fire safety options was also lacking. Martin explained, “There were roughly half a dozen [fire extinguishers] within quick walking distance [of the fire].”

Hicks and other nearby students were unaware of this. He explained, “I was not the only one not aware of where all the fire extinguishers were … Or how serious a fire needs to be before it warrants pulling an extinguisher.”

Within the library staff, steps have already been taken to address this confusion. According to Martin, “After the fire, we talked about fire safety in our staff meeting this month. We also got a location map of fire extinguishers, and there’s a map at the Information Desk.” Additionally, as a stopgap, a fire extinguisher has been stationed on the desk between the two printers.

While certain issues in Davidson’s fire preparedness were certainly brought to light by the incident, no real damage to the library occurred. Preneviciute described the library’s response as “great,” praising both the staff’s ability to “control the fire and not burn the library down” and the precautions taken afterwards.

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