College boosts bonfire precautions

by Elliot Mattingly | 10/21/05 5:00am

While the much-famed Homecoming bonfire may look like an insurer's nightmare, the College carefully orchestrates the seemingly chaotic event.

This year's bonfire safety and insurance situation is virtually identical to that of last year. The majority of changes to the event occurred following the 1999 Texas A&M University bonfire collapse. The fatal incident in Texas prompted a number of changes in the Dartmouth's bonfire plans. The College hired the same outside consultant Texas A&M used after their collapse in order to evaluate the bonfire in Hanover.

According to Director of Student Life Linda Kennedy, students follow strict procedures when building the bonfire.

"We've had a system for building bonfire for decades. The system is highly prescribed. There is absolutely no creativity. Each aspect has been carefully reviewed and tweaked to be as safe as possible," said Kennedy.

Changes included substituting heavy equipment for the rope and climbing gear students formerly used to lift the top logs of the bonfire and the addition of several sets of generators and lights to the Green during the festivities, Kennedy said.

One aspect the College has yet to tame is the running circle of freshmen around the fire. The tradition remains unique to Dartmouth, and consequently the College has no safety precedent to follow. Until any incidents occur, the freshman ritual shows no sign of fading.

Kennedy also cited the large security presence at the bonfire as an additional reason for the low amount of problems.

"S&S comes out in full force. Hanover police then hires additional police officers from all the surrounding towns to augment their force that night," she said.

The College hires an additional private security company, Green Mountain Security, to provide another layer of protection for bonfire attendees. The Hanover Fire Department also supplies two fully staffed engines and ambulances for the event, which the College pays for.

"We put some extra people on duty," said Chief of the Hanover Fire Department Roger Bradley.

Dartmouth's Office of Integrated Risk Management and Insurance also supports the College's current bonfire safety procedures, said College Risk manager Hank James in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The College receives its insurance through the group program Genisis, which also provides insurance for colleges including Princeton University and Columbia University. The company insures the College through a College-specific niche program. The program's premiums have risen since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, but Dartmouth's premiums have remained comparatively low due to the lack of serious claims placed by the College.

Altogether, the College's proactive safety and insurance approach to the bonfire helps keep chaos in check.

"It's very much a collaborative effort," James said.

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