University apologizes to students for carbon monoxide scare

Hillcrest Hall on Miami University’s Western Campus was evacuated  Nov. 18 because of a carbon monoxide leak.

Photo provided by Miami University

Hillcrest Hall on Miami University’s Western Campus was evacuated Nov. 18 because of a carbon monoxide leak.

By Emily Scott

The Nov. 18 carbon monoxide leak that forced the evacuation of Miami University’s Hillcrest Hall dormitory “violated the trust” students have in the university to provide a safe living environment, the school’s Institutional Response Team said in a campus-wide email Thursday, Dec. 2.

The leak was caused by a faulty water heater. It was detected after one student’s personal carbon monoxide detector went off. Hillcrest and many other buildings on campus are not equipped with such detectors. The 250 students living in the dorm had to be moved temporarily to other residence halls, and one was reportedly treated at the hospital.

This is both frightening and unacceptable,” the email read. “We understand the trust you have placed in us, as well as our responsibility, to provide safe residential experiences. What occurred at Hillcrest Hall violated that trust and did not meet the standard that we have set at Miami University. We deeply regret this occurred.” 

The Oxford Fire Department ordered the evacuation after confirming there were high levels of the gas in the building. Students were not able to return to the building until just before noon the next day. 

Because of this interruption, Miami will be providing all Hillcrest residents a $250 credit on their spring semester housing bill, which was released to students Thursday, Dec. 2. 

The university elaborated on the cause of the leak in Thursday’s email. It said that through working with Prater Engineering, it determined several unrelated causes led to the high levels of carbon monoxide. 

Early on Nov. 18, an air handler malfunctioned, causing outside air to be pulled into the dorm. This occurred where the hot water heater was emitting carbon monoxide outdoors. On top of this, the winds that day were trapping the released gas against the building, so more was able to be pulled back inside. 

According to the email, fire code does not require carbon monoxide detectors in buildings that do not produce carbon monoxide, or buildings that only emit it outdoors. This means that Miami buildings are not required to have carbon monoxide detectors. 

Following this event, the university said it is determining how to remove water heaters and install a centralized carbon monoxide detecting system in every residential building on campus. 

In the meantime, temporary carbon monoxide detectors will be installed in each residence hall, hot water heater vents in Hillcrest will be directed away from the building, and the University will encourage the State Fire Marshal to require detectors in all buildings. 

“We hold sacred our responsibility to keep our students safe. We fully intend to address the issues identified in the Hillcrest Hall event and prevent the possibility of something similar occurring again. We appreciate your consideration as we implement the changes and continue to work with our experts to make certain that nothing has been overlooked,” the university said in the email. 

Miami will host two town hall events to answer any questions relating to this event. The first is for students and will be 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, in the lobby of Hillcrest. The second is for parents and will be virtual at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7.  Those interested can register here