I grabbed my jacket, keys and cell phone, groaning as I wondered what stupid jerks decided, as a joke, to pull the alarm and why they had to do it when it was so cold outside. But when I reached the hallway, I saw my roommate - already standing at the door to the staircase - was gaping at smoke billowing from the staircase's entrance.
I began hearing terrified screams covering up the sound of the alarm as we scrambled to the other side of the hall and into the other staircase. This was no joke.
People always say to remain calm in the case of an emergency, to file out in an orderly and efficient manner. This is far easier said than done. The scene in the one usable staircase was anything but calm.
While many people like myself rushed to exit the building and move away from the thick smoke, some students found the situation amusing and decided to stop on various landings and take pictures of the chaotic events as they unfolded. Needless to say, this was an extremely dangerous and frustrating choice especially as more and more people began to panic over the traffic jam that kept them from reaching fresh oxygen.
After what felt like a lifetime, we finally made it out of the building, and the people who had yet to realize the urgent nature of the situation were shocked to see the smoke streaming out of the windows of the topmost floors. As sirens were heard coming up the hill, all the residents and guests of Mohn Hall were pushed further back towards Buntrock Commons and Thorson Island.
As disturbing as it was to see smoke issuing out of Mohn, the most disgusting sight of the evening was the jeering and laughter coming from part of the crowd. The contradictory sight of students crying and huddling together and the laughter and antics of others was truly startling. How anyone found that situation amusing is far beyond me.
I do, however, feel proud of one aspect of the night. The actions and coordination of the Mohn residential staff were beautiful and very reassuring. They worked together to get everyone out of harm's way and to make sure everyone all stayed safe.
When it was unclear whether everyone had made it out of the building, the Residence Life staff members were the ones who went running back into the smoking building to check every floor and make sure that no one was left inside. They were also the ones to make sure the people who had inhaled too much smoke were seen by the paramedics and properly taken care of. They are the ones who stayed calm and in charge of the situation; they are true shining stars of a horrific night.
At the time, no one was really sure what caused all the smoke and panic. But later the next morning, the Area Coordinator sent out an email which began like this: "On Saturday night at approximately 10:50 p.m. a smoke bomb was set off in the stairwell on the first floor. The smoke quickly filled the entire building, causing the building to be evacuated and the police and fire departments to be called."
The email goes on to talk about the dangers and seriousness of smoke inhalation, as well as asking anyone with information about the night's events to please come forward. I would like to second this plea in all earnesty.
Several students ended up in the hospital because of these antics, and countless more students were terrified and panicked after the night's events. I know that I certainly tossed and turned all night wondering who would do such a thing and why.
Saturday night was a very scary and eye-opening experience for a lot of people, myself included. It says a lot about the true nature of people.
There were the few individuals who chose to make the situation unnecessarily worse for those around them. However, there were also many individuals who rose to the occasion, ignoring their own fears to help and comfort others. They are the ones I am proud to call my peers, and they are the ones who make me confident that St. Olaf will do an exceptional job at finding and reacting to the students who lit the smoke bomb.