“I was in the building that evening, and to the best of my knowledge, I was the last student out of the building as fire fighters were entering to begin battling the blaze erupting from the roof,” Brehmer said.
She was a junior in the communication disorders department and had been studying on the fourth floor of the administration building, in the student study room.
“The windows were open because the AC had been malfunctioning that week,” she said. “As a matter of fact, the fire alarms had also been malfunctioning all week, causing us to evacuate the building multiple times. I heard a rumor at the time that someone finally made the decision to disable the fire alarms until they could be investigated to find out if there was faulty wiring causing them to go off irregularly.”
Brehmer had entered the building before 5 pm and was the only student on the floor. The custodian knew she was there. Someone alerted him there seemed to be smoke coming through some vents downstairs.
“He came upstairs to find me, letting me know that he was investigating, and since there was no alarm to sound, I should be alert to anything in case I needed to evacuate quickly,” Brehmer said. “He asked if I had smelled smoke, and it occurred to me that perhaps there was a bit of haze in the air, but I believed it to be coming in from the open windows, and unconsciously attributed it to someone burning yard waste somewhere.
Not long after the custodian left to continue checking the building, Brehmer heard distant sirens. She didn’t pay attention until the sirens sounded closer and she looked out the windows to see fire trucks pulling up on the front lawn.
“I figured it was another false alarm but thought it best to gather up all my belongings and leave,” she said. “Before leaving the building, I went to the student break room, to empty out my cubby of all my personal belongings, books, tape recorder, client files, etc. I also stopped to use the rest room. Foolish, I know, but remember I thought it was a false alarm.
“I did have the sense to leave by the stairs rather than the elevator, however, since that is advised in the event of a fire.”
When she reached the ground floor, firefighters were streaming in. The custodian had notified the firemen about Brehmer.
She called out, “‘No, here I am.’ They asked me to exit immediately. I walked out the front door, walked a few yards onto the front lawn, turned to look back at the building and saw smoke coming out of the roof above the fourth floor study room, where I had just been a few minutes before.”
She joined a group of students who were watching the fire.
“It didn’t take long for us to observe flames starting to break through the roof line,” Brehmer said. “It began to sink in that this was the beginning of a catastrophe and I was in a state of shock.”
Her memories from the rest of the evening included returning to the dormitory and watching the fire from the window. She tried to call her mother in Red Oak, IA, but the phone lines were down. Some of her classmates were looking for her in the crowds outside the ad building but didn’t think to look for her in the dormitory.
“In the days after the fire, the communication disorders department relocated to another building on campus, and we continued our classes and practicums,” Brehmer said. “I was able to graduate on schedule.”
She was asked to make a statement to the fire marshals for the investigation.
A thesis written by Jason D. Williamson in May 2010 added details to the event. The fire had destroyed most of the evidence of the cause of the fire. Maryville Public Safety had been called at 8:14 pm. Approximately 150 firefighters from six departments responded. The fire was brought under control at approximately 2 am.
Sixty percent of the building was destroyed or damaged including the north wing which contained a 1,000 seat theater and two gymnasiums. The north wing was not reconstructed. The fourth floor was converted into attic storage space.
Brehmer currently resides in Clarinda, IA, and works as a certified family support professional.