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    Posted February 8, 2012 by
    La Crosse, Wisconsin

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    271 Students Helped by University Community: After the Fire


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     mediaman followed up with college students at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse after a fire at Drake Hall on Jan. 29 forced all of the students to move out of the dorm. There have been almost 300 students displaced, but friends and members of the community helped them pack up and move into other residence halls and the homes of friends and staff. 'Three hundred students is a big task but people have been very generous and helpful,' he said.
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    La Crosse, WI On January 29, a fire broke out in a residence hall basement at UW-La Crosse. Fire alarms went off around 4:29am warning students to immediately vacate the building. Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries. With the spring semester just underway, nearly 300 students had to gather their possessions and move to new living quarters. Friends, families, and the university community came to help with the move. These are their stories.


    A constant line of friends and volunteers formed outside of Drake Hall to help students move to their new living spaces on and off campus. Large wheeled storage bins were lined up to help the displaced residents. The university track team and campus volunteers lifted and carried a wide assortment of items down the stairs and out the door. The atmosphere was generally upbeat despite the circumstances.

    Douglas Meyer,from Peshtigo, WI surveyed his “college stuff” and packed with methodical precision. He said it’s tough, but things are going pretty well. “I’m confident we are going to adjust.”


    Outside, Katie Johnson of Appleton was smiling as she helped her friend Alex Hoppock of Green Bay, who lived in Drake Hall. Katie and her roomates offered their apartment to Alex for the semester. As she carried out boxes of Alex’s things, she said, “It's the least I could do. I couldn't imagine going through what he's going through. I'm just glad no one got hurt, especially since a lot of my friends lived in Drake." Alex reflected, “It's times like these that you find out who your true friends are."

    On the second floor the smell of smoke still hung in the air. In one room, Chancellor Joe Gow helped Lauren Emenecker from Neenah. They both acknowledged Lauren’s challenges she’d face in the upcoming weeks. As they finished packing they smiled, shook hands and were on their way. In an adjoining open area, Caitlyn Socwell of Seymour and Paxton Proft of Melrose, WI offered cardboard boxes for students to pack their belongings.

    Down the hallway, Stephanie Berg and her family from Wisconsin Rapids talked about fire. When asked how the parents heard about the fire, Stephanie said, “Through Facebook.” Her parents, Doug and Suzanne said, “It was so helpful to see the photos of the fire damage. It wasn’t until we saw the photos we knew it was bad.” Roommate Jackie Gautheir was in the top bunk and when she heard the alarms she “freaked out.” Gautheir said, “All I can remember after hearing the alarms was hitting things all around me. I knew we had to get out as fast as possible.”

    Curt Hargis, father of Hailey from Lakefield, MN flew from Denver to help her move out of her room. As Hargis pulled the bedding off his daughter’s bed he said, “When Hailey called I knew I had to get to her as soon as I could. I’m glad I made it.” In the next room Sean Gardon took his bed apart with the help of his aunt, Laurie Koll Sparta, WI. Sean’s parents in West Bend, WI could immediately travel to La Crosse to start helping. Family members from all around were pitching in to help.

    Outside the residence hall, Diane and Herb Schanke of Neenah stood with their son Adam in front of their minivan packed with college “stuff.” Diane said, “The photos of the fire really told the story.” She paused and reflected, “….and to think what could have happened.”

    Makensie Christel, a Biology student from Hartford, WI best summed up the fire by saying, “I was scared when the alarms went off. I jumped out and didn’t think it was real.” She said, “All I had was boxer shorts on. It was really cold, but I’m glad I got out when I did.”

    According to Campus Fire Watch, over the past 3 weeks, there have been nine significant campus fires in the U.S. including 3 deaths and 9 injuries. In La Crosse, working fire alarms and alert students averted tragedy. The other story is how a university community came together and helped 271 students continue their lives and education- all after the fire.

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