The residents of a townhouse on 22 block in Barnyard Manor are being hailed as heroes after they sprung into action late Sunday night, Sept. 30, to put out a small fire that started as a result of a candle in a neighboring townhouse. 

On their Facebook page, The Fairfield Fire Department shares that “Last evening, the Fairfield County Regional Dispatch Center received a frantic 911 call from a student at Fairfield University reporting a ‘fire’ inside her townhouse unit.” In her call, “she reported that visible fire was seen when she made her way back to her room.”

Luckily, thanks to the quick thinking and selfless actions of Thomas McDuff ‘24, the fire did not spread past the student’s desk. 

McDuff first spotted the fire while watching the movie “Wedding Crashers”. When he “heard the alarm going off in the house next door,” he “immediately looked out the window and saw smoke and flames coming out the window.” 

In a truly stereotypical college fashion, McDuff utilized the lawn game version of pong they had sitting outside to extinguish the fire. Using the oversized cups in a bucket brigade style, he “rushed back inside and filled up one of the large cups with water” and got to work. 

Initially, McDuff attempted to douse the fire from the sidewalk, but he “realized that if [he] popped the screen out in [his] roommate’s room, [he] could have access to the roof and get a much easier shot at the fire.”

When asked why he didn’t wait for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) or for the Fairfield Fire Department to respond, he claims “I didn’t want to wait for the fire department as I could tell the fire was small enough that I wouldn’t get hurt and, at the very least, I could help delay the spread until the fire department arrived.”   

“Once I got on the rooftop and in front of the fire I saw nearly everything on the girl’s desk aside from her laptop lit up. Luckily, I was able to spread out the water from the pong cup to put the entire fire out without having to go back inside,” he continues.  

Junior Frances Harmon, a resident of the townhouse affected by the fire, testified about McDuff’s heroic act.

“He literally climbed the wall like Spiderman … and I’m pretty sure he was in his slippers,” Harmon said. “If I knew he wanted to put the fire out, I would’ve opened the door for him.”

McDuff’s actions were successful as “when firefighters made entry, it was discovered that the fire had already been extinguished,” writes the Fairfield Fire Department. 

Upon investigation, Assistant Chief Phil Higgins “found an unattended candle had caught nearby combustibles on fire.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than one-third of home candle fires started in the bedroom. 

Niquita Dietrich, associate director of leadership development and formation for the Office of Residence Life, refers students to the Student Handbook to learn more about preventative measures for fires. She also directs students to the handbook, which outlines prohibited items that can affect fire safety. 

Jennifer Anderson ‘97, MBA ‘02, adds that “the University reminds[s] students that candles are not permitted in residence halls.” 

In addition, there were no injuries sustained and the University expresses their gratitude for the students’ actions. Anderson states, “The University would like to thank those that responded quickly to this incident.”

The Fairfield Fire Department attests to the contribution of McDuff’s heroic actions. “The quick actions of this student clearly limited the growth and spread of this fire,” they state. 

McDuff also comments on the response his actions garnered from professionals. 

“The firefighters were surprisingly really happy with my actions, which was great. One firefighter called me a hero and a DPS officer referred to my actions as ‘sick’,” he adds. 

Junior Erica Adams, who also lives in the affected townhouse, echoes the firefighter’s sentiments and thanks McDuff for his actions. 

“We were all so grateful that a good samaritan acted so quickly and successfully to minimize the damage. In the heat of the moment, we were all so confused and scared and we were grateful that someone stepped up.” 

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