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Op. Ed: Keep all of the Clemson Family safe

Fire drills. For some it’s an unexpected minor inconvenience, and for others it is a subtle reminder of the situation that they have been put in. The situation for many disabled students living on Clemson’s campus is the

same: they have no means of escape if there is a fire. I lived on the second floor of Holmes for three years next door to one of my best friends. He has muscular dystrophy and needs a power scooter for mobility. The location

of our room didn’t matter much until I was woken up by the sound of our fire alarm going off. It was much too early in the morning for it to be a drill.

After helping my friend into his scooter, I asked what we were supposed to do. I was shocked to find out that it was University policy that in the event of a fire, a handicapped student who can’t descend stairs is supposed to wait in the stairwell for a firefighter to come get them. Words cannot describe how helpless we felt, waiting in the stairwell for help to arrive. A considerable amount of time passed, and a police officer came to check on us, but the experience left an indelible mark on me and my roommate.

Talking with University housing revealed that not only has this policy been the standard for a while, that this is the policy for every building on campus. All handicapped students living on floors accessible only by elevator that can’t get down the stairs have to wait in the stairwell for help, or use the university provided “panic buttons” to indicate that they need help. It seems as though there is not a plan for students get out that doesn’t involve having the fire department run in and save them.

Furthermore, I discovered that the new Core Campus (with handicapped designated rooms) has no rooms on the first floor. Every single handicapped student that is living in Core Campus must now abide by this potentially dangerous escape plan. A plan that they didn’t opt into. I found this to be tremendously worrying. Not only does this put a considerable number of students at risk, but it also sends a very clear message to those students every time there is a fire drill. Many of them have to wonder what will happen if the fire department doesn’t reach them in time. Even if they do get out, what happens to the wheelchair, or power scooter that they had to leave behind? In the worst case scenario, they are left without mobility for the foreseeable future. Something has to change.

With new construction on the forefront in Clemson, I urge the planners to put first floor handicapped rooms in the new dorms that they are building, as the current plan is dangerous and unacceptable. This goes beyond the safety of the students (which is very important). We always like to say that Clemson is a family, well then, let’s make sure all of our family is safe.

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