Students, Security Officers Discover Blaze, Act as First Responders

February 9, 2017

[one_half]When a house near campus went up in flames on January 31, three members of the Mary Baldwin University community acted as the first emergency responders.

Sycamore Street homeowners Mark and Alexandra Pitts were watching Jeopardy! in their rear room on the first floor of their historic home, oblivious to the fact that their attic was on fire.

The first warning that anything was even wrong, according to the Pitts, was a startling banging on their door. It was Mary Baldwin campus safety officer Jim Jacenich.

Moments before, MBU students Talibah Howard ’20 and Shayla Spruill ’20 noticed the flames shooting out the Pitts’ home, directly behind Woodson Residence Hall. They called 911 and alerted campus security of the situation.

When it comes to any recognition for his brave act officer Jacenich remains humble and chalked up the heroic actions to just being part of his job.

“The students who called 911 should get all the credit, I did nothing more than knock on a door,” Jacenich said. “I came out of the office and saw the flames coming out of the attic; I simply walked up to the door and knocked.”


Director of Safety and Security Thomas Byerly explained that MBU security is not just a campus service, but a community one as well.

“Our campus safety mission statement includes providing a safe and secure living and working environment at Mary Baldwin University,” Byerly said. “Compassion and concern for our neighbors and fellow human beings extends this mission beyond MBU property.”

Byerly also praised the student-staff trio for their actions during the stressful situation.

“I am proud that MBU students identified the emergency situation and made prompt notification to our office; and equally proud that Officer Jacenich quickly responded by taking action to ensure our neighbors remained unharmed,” he said.

Staunton Fire Department determined that the cause of the house fire, which ignited in the attic, was accidental. Fire officials gave credit in a press release to both the students and Jacenich for their quick-thinking actions, which helped minimize damage to the home and, most importantly, prevented injuries.

“It is impossible to sufficiently express our gratitude to the students for their timely response and action, which resulted in saving a significant portion of our home and potentially our lives as well,” Mark Pitts said.