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Ed Comeau, Publisher
Campus Firewatch
413-296-1982
ecomeau@campus-firewatch.com

Student dies in off-campus fire in Reading, Pennsylvania

Second fatal fire of the 2014/2015 academic year

BELCHERTOWN, Mass. September 14, 2014 –Matt Rein, a 19-year-old student at Albright College, was killed yesterday in an early-morning, off-campus fire in Reading, Pennsylvania.  Rein was a sophomore majoring in environmental science and was from South River, New Jersey, according to a statement from Albright College.

The fire broke out at approximately 5:06 a.m. in the 1300 block of North 13th Street, reported Reading Fire Marshal Larry Moyer in an interview with Campus Firewatch. The first call came from occupants in the building on the third floor, and the sound of smoke alarms could be heard in the background, which the occupants reported alerted them to the fire.  When fire fighters arrived on the scene there was heavy smoke showing, but no visible fire, and reports of multiple people trapped.  Four of the occupants on the third floor were able to descend to the second floor, onto a roof porch, where they jumped to the ground, uninjured.

Fire fighters entered the building to search for the trapped occupants and were able to rescue two who were overcome by the smoke.  One of the survivors was located on a couch on the first floor near the front entrance and the other was found on the second floor. They were transported to Reading Hospital and are currently being treated for smoke inhalation and are expected to recover. Fire fighters located Rein at the top of the basement stairs, but his injuries were too severe, and he was not transported for treatment and was pronounced dead on the scene.

There were seven occupants in the building at the time of the fire, four of them were tenants and three were visitors, including Rein.  The ages of the occupants ranged from nineteen to 21 years old.

The building was a 2.5-story ordinary construction (brick) structure with smoke alarms on the first, second and third floors. It is unknown at this time if there were smoke alarms in the basement, which did not have any sleeping rooms in it. Fire fighters reported that they could hear the smoke alarms on the second and third floors, but did not report hearing any sounding on the first floor when they made entry during the search and rescue operations.

Fire damage was limited to the basement with smoke damage throughout the rest of the building. According to Moyer, the basement fire was controlled by a water pipe that had burst, and that the cause of the fire has not been determined at this time.

The fire occurred on Albright Family Day, which included events on campus and a football game.

This is the second fatal fire of the 2014/2015 academic year, both in off-campus fires.  The first occurred on September 4 in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Since 2000, 168 people have been killed in campus-related fires, with 87% of them occurring in off-campus occupancies, according to information compiled by Campus Firewatch. Common factors in a number of these fires include:

  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Lack of a second exit
  • Fires starting in couches on porches or decks

Since 2000, there has been a definite downward trend to campus-related fire deaths since its peak in 2006-2007 with 20 fatalities, and the lowest number last academic year with four fire deaths. Off-campus housing is still the greatest risk where over four out of five fire deaths have occurred since 2000. The last fatal fire in a fraternity was 2006 and the last residence hall fire death occurred in 2005, a testimony to the strong efforts being made by schools and communities across the country.

Information on campus fire safety is available from Campus Firewatch, including a Campus Firewatch Information Sheet, a map showing the locations and details of campus-related fires since 2000 as well as educational material, including the video documentary 9 Fires and The Alarming Truth.

 Recent Fatal Campus-Related Fires

  • Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania  Matt Rien, 19, a sophomore, was killed in an off-campus house
  • Mitchell Technical Institute/Mitchell, South Dakota Tylor Kostrzewski was killed in an off-campus fire
  • Purdue University/West Lafayette, IN One person was killed in an apartment building occupied by Purdue University students
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND Sophomore Matthew Heisler was killed in an off-campus fire
  • Frostburg State University/Frostburg, MD Lateef Gazal was killed in an off-campus house fire
  • Purdue University/West Lafayette, IN  A student, Scott Notary, was killed in an off-campus house fire. 
  • Boston University/Boston, MA A student, Binland Lee, was killed in an off-campus fire that occurred across the street from the 2012 fire that injured a number of BU students, one critically.
  • University of Massachusetts/Amherst, MA  A student was killed on January 18 in an off-campus apartment fire.
  • University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati, OH   Ellen Garner died on January 14 andUni Chad Kohls died on January 7 from an off-campus fire that had broken out on New Year’s Day.  
  • St. Cloud State University/St. Cloud, MN Kyle Kopischke was killed in an off-campus apartment fire.  The fire started in the kitchen area and is believed to be accidental.
  • University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, WI Two students were killed and two more injured in an off-campus apartment fire. 
  • University of Memphis/Memphis, TN  Paul Horbelt, a sophomore, was killed in an off-campus apartment fire.  The cause of the fire is under investigation at this time.
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville/Edwardsville, Illinois  A fire in an off-campus house has killed two students. The students have been identified as Lauren D. Petersen, age 19, of Timberwood Drive, Bethalto, Illinois and Lacy V. Siddall, age 21, Briarwood Drive, Bethalto, Illinois.  The preliminary investigation points towards a power strip and laptop as the possible cause of the fire.  Initial reports are that the smoke alarm did not have a working battery in it.
  • Marist College/Poughkeepsie, NY  On Saturday, January 21, three students were killed in an off-campus house at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation.