4 February 1981
Fire Chief’s Nightmare of Nassau Hall Ablaze Seemed on Verge of Coming True
Princeton Fire Chief Ralph Hulit Jr. says he has a recurring nightmare that Nassau Hall is burning down.
For a few moments Saturday it seemed as if that nightmare of Chief Hulit-whose family shoe business across the street is almost in the shadow of Nassau Hall-was about to become a reality.
Around 5 p.m. an intruder in Nassau Hall apparently set off a second-floor carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. It stirred up a lot of dust and powder and set off a smoke alarm in the corridor.
When the alarm sounded, university proctors investigated. Mistaking the cloud of white dust and chemicals for smoke, they called the Fire Department at 5:04.
Chief Hulit responded to the report of heavy smoke in Nassau Hall. “You couldn’t even see,” he said. He quickly called for a general alarm. All companies responded and 40 firemen from four pumpers and a ladder truck that converged at the site ran past a crowd of onlookers to fight a fire that wasn’t there.
Fifteen minutes later, a proctor carted the spent extinguisher away and the campus returned to its Saturday quiet. But not quite. The news of the “fire” got around, recalled Chief Hulit.
He reported he even got a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer, wanting information about the fire. “I don’t know how they heard about it,” he said. Meanwhile, historic Nassau Hall is still standing, and Chief Hulit can go back to having that nightmare.