EDITORIAL: Make 9-volt batteries part of school supplies

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

The story Brittany Nichting and David Beck had to tell about a fire at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville should send a chill down the backs of any parents with college students. 

Nichting, 19, of Dunlap, and Beck, 19, of East Peoria, were asleep in Beck’s campus apartment just after midnight when Nichting suddenly awoke.

She smelled smoke. When she looked out the window, everything was orange.

“The siding was on fire. Stuff, in flames, was falling off the roof,” she said.

A campus police officer kicked open the apartment door.

As the trio got to the front door of the apartment on the second floor of the building, they saw nothing but a sheet of flames.

Nichting said she hesitated going forward, but looking back, she saw the ceiling collapsing. There was no turning back.

“There was black smoke and flames everywhere. We couldn’t see,” Nichting said.

The trio felt their way down the stairs through the smoke.

“As soon as we got to the bottom of the stairs, the staircase collapsed,” Nichting said.

They were closer to safety but still had to go down a hallway with flames licking the walls on both sides.

“We got out the door and the whole roof collapsed,” Nichting said.

That is scary enough.

But, then Nichting added, the building had been struck by lightning earlier in the day, and was without power.

Without power, the hard-wired smoke alarms had not gone off.

Nichting’s father, Patrick, was none too happy about that.

It could be the batteries in the smoke detector just failed.

Perhaps they got fried by the lightning strike.

Or, perhaps, because the students were not scheduled to start school for days, the batteries had not been checked by maintenance.

There is probably no way of telling now. But, it is obvious that operating batteries could well have gotten the pair out much earlier.

The situation Nichting and Beck went through is a parent’s nightmare.

That is why it is essential parents add 9-volt batteries to the school supply list for college students.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports, each year, there are an estimated 405,000 fires in residential structures, which cause nearly 3,600 fatalities, 18,600 injuries and $4.7 billion in property loss.

By 2000, smoke alarms were installed in nearly 94 percent of U.S. households. But, without power, they are useless.

College students have many things on their minds as school starts. Safety is often way down the list. These young adults still need mom and dad to look out for them. 

Beck’s mother, Clara, put the seriousness of this point in perspective with her comment, “We could have been paying for a funeral.”