year later, deadly blaze recalled
Phi Kappa Theta rebuilds with brother in
HOUGHTON In the year since a devastating fire took
the life of 20-year-old Andrew Maas, members of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity
have rallied to rebuild their house and their lives.
For some people it was rough; we had quite a few brothers
who really had a tough time just keeping on going after something like
that, said Chet Craw, president of the Michigan Tech University
The fire broke out in the early-morning hours of Aug. 13,
2002. Investigators believe the fire started when Maas left a stove unattended
in the kitchen. The blaze destroyed the fraternitys three-story
Ruby Avenue house. Four people escaped, but Maas, an engineering student
from downstate Holland, was trapped on the third floor and died.
Craw said fraternity members struggled with the loss.
I think with a tragedy like this everyone takes a
step back and looks at whats really important, he said.
It was a terrible, terrible fire and we pray it never
happens again, said Robert Bubba Megowen of the Houghton
Volunteer Fire Department.
Megowen, an 18-year department veteran, knew the fire was
serious when the dispatcher said the century-old house was in flames.
The second they said the building was engulfed, it
was the fastest I got to the firehouse in years, he said.
Megowen, firefighter Dwayne Hokenson and about four others
were on the first truck to arrive. As the men were strapping on air packs,
Hokenson said they could see the blaze was out of control.
You could see the flames at the top of Garnet Street,
Hokenson and Megowen tried repeatedly to enter the building
while others tried to douse the flames. Hokenson said heat and smoke kept
the pair from getting too far into the house.
The heat was so intense youd just go in a little
ways and then youd have to back out, Hokenson said.
As firefighters fought the blaze, fraternity members who
escaped said they couldnt account for Maas.
I was sick as I talked to the guys, Megowen
About three hours later at about 9:10 a.m.
Maas' body was found in a bedroom near his sleeping compartment, also
known as a pod.
That was an irreplaceable loss thats
the way it felt, Craw said. Obviously, you can rebuild the
house, but you cant replace a brother.
Fraternity member Dan Limberg expressed similar sentiments.
There are some things in life that you never forget
and some people youll never forget and thats how I feel about
this, he said.
After the fire, the community rallied to raise money for
the fraternity, and in April, both active members and alumni broke ground
on a new $690,000 house.
Our goal is to get the guys in the house (by mid-October),
get the guys in a suitable house and were definitely going to have
that for them, said project manager Mike Carpenter, of Marquette-based
STS Consultants, Ltd.
Carpenter, a Phi Kappa Theta alumnus, said several fraternity
alumni will put the finishing touches on the building to help cut costs.
Its another great way for people who loved the house to get involved and help the reconstruction of the house, he said.
Carpenter said the new house incorporates lessons learned
from the fire. There are built-in sprinklers and other safety devices.
The old house did not have sprinklers.
We lost our house, we lost our brother, he said.
Were smarter because of it.
The new house wont have pods. Although its unknown
whether Maas was sleeping in his pod at the time of the fire, officials
have said they are a safety hazard (see related story).
They want the flexibility to build whatever they want,
but they understand that they shouldnt be building enclosed pods,
Craw said the experience of the past year, including reconstruction,
has brought the fraternity closer together.
Theres so many generations of brothers working
on this, he said. Its a great thing.
As a Houghton city councilman, Megowen said hes working
to improve fire safety codes.
I do not want to take another body out of another building, he said.