Fire Causes Swimmers to Evacuate After Championship Weekend

On Saturday, Feb. 23, Westside girl’s and boy’s swim teams competed in Lincoln, NE at the State Championship for swimming. Both teams placed with girls finishing in sixth place and the boys finishing in second place. Due to the blizzard that hit the Eastern part of Nebraska that day, the swimmers had to stay an extra night in their hotel. The teams celebrated their accomplishments that night, but at 3 a.m. the fire alarms went off and the swimmers as well as other guests had to evacuate the hotel. Sophomore Jack Bailey said that they thought the fire alarm was a drill, but then realized it was real.

“We ran down the stairwell and out of the building,” Bailey said. “A lot of people just hurried so we didn’t have shoes or anything, and there was a foot or two [of] snow maybe and it was pretty bad.”

The cold temperatures along with the snow and ice made frostbite a possibility for the barefoot swimmers. Senior Laina Bayles said that due to the evacuation, many of the swimmers did not have their shoes which caused concern.

State swimmers the night of the hotel fire

“I was so exasperated and the first thing I thought [was that] I was going to get frostbite on my toes because I was running through the snow with no shoes on,” Bayles said. “So I actually got on the back of one of my teammates.”

The guests that were evacuated were later informed that the fire was caused by someone who had laid their clothes on a heater. The clothes caught fire and spread to other areas of the room. This took place on the same floor that the girls were staying.

“Everybody was out on the street, and the firefighters came in less than two minutes and they went in and they told us we could go into the conference center of the Cornhuskers because it’s a pretty big hotel,” Bayles said. “We were in there for about two hours, and they came out and told us what had happened, that it was an actual fire in the room 420 it was kind of surreal.”

The swimmers were kept in the conference room during the early morning hours, so they were unable to get much sleep. On the drive back to Omaha, the roads were unsafe which added stress to the situation.

“[Being evacuated due to the fire] just made us really grumpy the next day, because we had an hour of sleep maybe and to drive all the way back the roads were not good at all and we were just sleep deprived,” Bailey said.

Although the situation was not ideal, Bayles said she was grateful it happened later in the competition rather than the days prior when the team had to swim.

“We were honestly all just super happy it didn’t happen Thursday night or Friday night because then we would have had no sleep for our competition,” Bayles said. “It was actually our final team bonding because we were all together for two hours trying to make the most fun with the situation.”