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UMass student dies in Rolling Green fire: 30 left homeless in early a.m. blaze

  • Some 30 people were left homeless in the fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Some 30 people were left homeless in the fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal  fire at Rolling Green apartments on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal fire at Rolling Green apartments on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at Rolling Green Apartments at Amherst on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at Rolling Green Apartments at Amherst on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Firefighters from Hadley and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Firefighters from Hadley and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hadley firefighters negotiate an icy parking lot at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday as they leave an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Hadley firefighters negotiate an icy parking lot at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday as they leave an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • These are the front entrances to apartments #201, left, and #202 at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex on Belchertown Road. Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at the complex on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    These are the front entrances to apartments #201, left, and #202 at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex on Belchertown Road. Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at the complex on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from these ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from these ten units.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Two college-aged men comfort each other Monday at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments where one man perished in an early morning fire that also left some 30 people displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Two college-aged men comfort each other Monday at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments where one man perished in an early morning fire that also left some 30 people displaced.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst firefighters allow some people to enter an apartment briefly to gather belongings Monday afternoon following an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex that left one dead and some 30 people displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Amherst firefighters allow some people to enter an apartment briefly to gather belongings Monday afternoon following an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex that left one dead and some 30 people displaced.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Two college-aged women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Two college-aged women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Don Cawrse, left, Ellen Patashnick and Jane Robinson were among the volunteers from the Pioneer Valley chapter of the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts who helped process assistance for about 30 people displaced by an early morning fire that killed one man at Rolling Green at Amherst apartments on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Don Cawrse, left, Ellen Patashnick and Jane Robinson were among the volunteers from the Pioneer Valley chapter of the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts who helped process assistance for about 30 people displaced by an early morning fire that killed one man at Rolling Green at Amherst apartments on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • James "Jake" Hoffman died in the fire Monday at Rolling Green apartments.

    James "Jake" Hoffman died in the fire Monday at Rolling Green apartments. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Some 30 people were left homeless in the fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal  fire at Rolling Green apartments on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at Rolling Green Apartments at Amherst on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • Firefighters from Hadley and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Hadley firefighters negotiate an icy parking lot at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday as they leave an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A Hadley firefighter walks past the back of a ten-unit building that was damaged in an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • These are the front entrances to apartments #201, left, and #202 at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex on Belchertown Road. Fire units from Amherst and several other towns responded to an early morning fatal fire at the complex on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Firefighters from Amherst and several other towns prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Monday after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from these ten units.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Two college-aged men comfort each other Monday at the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments where one man perished in an early morning fire that also left some 30 people displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Amherst firefighters allow some people to enter an apartment briefly to gather belongings Monday afternoon following an early morning fire at the Rolling Green at Amherst complex that left one dead and some 30 people displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Two college-aged women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Don Cawrse, left, Ellen Patashnick and Jane Robinson were among the volunteers from the Pioneer Valley chapter of the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts who helped process assistance for about 30 people displaced by an early morning fire that killed one man at Rolling Green at Amherst apartments on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • James "Jake" Hoffman died in the fire Monday at Rolling Green apartments.

The University of Massachusetts student who died in a fire at Rolling Green at Amherst apartments early Monday morning has been identified as James F. “Jake” Hoffman, 21, of Stoughton.

The Northwestern District Attorney’s office released Hoffman’s name late Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after a post on the Stoughton Fire Rescue Facebook page read: “Stoughton High School graduate and UMass Amherst student Jake Hoffman, 21, passed away yesterday morning in a fire at a condominium complex that he lived in while attending college. Jake leaves behind his parents David and Anne Hoffman, brother Riordan, and a sister Nichole.”

Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the state fire marshal’s office has yet to determine the cause of the fire, which gutted five units and displaced 30 people, including 20 UMass students, from their homes. The fire does not appear to be suspicious, he said.

“What caused it right now is speculation,” Nelson said.

Firefighter arrived at the scene at 422 Belchertown Road Monday at 4:45 a.m. to find smoke and flames coming from the front of the 10-unit building closest to Route 9, according to Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren.

The fire is believed to have started in unit 202, where Hoffman was found, and spread to the neighboring units. Stromgren said the investigation will determine whether smoke detectors were functioning in the unit where the fire began.

Two other people living in unit 202 escaped.

“This is a terrible tragedy, and we deeply mourn this loss of life,” UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said Monday.

He added that the dean of students’ office was still processing information and reaching out to those affected to make sure they have a place to stay.

“Our priority is to make sure students are cared for and housed,” Blaguszewski said.

Blaguszewski said the university would offer all of its resources, including providing food and psychological assistance. “Our counseling services are activated and offered to students,” he said.

Off-campus risk

Prior to Monday’s fire, the last fatal blaze involving a UMass student occurred in April 2003, when a junior died inside her home on Sand Hill Road. Twelve years earlier, in February 1991, two male students lost their lives in a North Pleasant Street blaze.

Ed Comeau, publisher of the Belchertown-based Campus Firewatch, said that most college students who perish in fires do so at off-campus residences.

“There’s definitely a greater risk to living off campus,” Comeau said.

Nationwide, he said, two-thirds of students live off campus, but 86 percent of fire fatalities among college students since 2000 have occurred at off-campus residences. During that span, there have been 155 fire-related deaths of students, with 133 occurring off campus, 10 in residence halls, 10 in Greek housing and two in what are described as other living arrangements.

During the 2011-12 academic year, all nine college students killed in fires died as the result of fires at off-campus homes. So far in the current academic year, Comeau said, six more students have died in off-campus blazes, three since Jan. 1.

Last month, UMass finished installing sprinklers in all dorms, with officials observing there has never been a fire-related fatality on campus.

Comeau said dormitories tend to be better maintained, with stringent rules about smoking and lighting candles and incense, and better supervision and oversight.

“When you move off campus, a lot of that goes away,” he said.

Nelson said town and university officials are interested in making sure all students are safe, no matter where they live.

Educational efforts

“In conjunction with the UMass Environmental Heath and Safety, we’ve been a part of that education push,” Nelson said. “One of the last things kids will think about is fire safety. Their thought is, ‘It won’t happen to me.’ ”

Nelson said living off campus is safe if students take the proper precautions.

“What we see a lot of is smoke detectors are disabled,” Nelson said, “That’s taking away your best and first line of defense.”

Blaguszewski said fire safety is a prominent part of students’ orientation when they arrive as freshmen.

“They really get a lot of exposure to that. They certainly have a foundation of that information,” he said.

The challenge comes as they transition to off-campus dwellings, Blaguszewski said. An off-campus student services office is trying to address fire safety issues. As part of finding an apartment and evaluating a lease, there is also a fire safety checklist.

Lisa Queenin, director of community and regional legislative relations for UMass, said safety workshops and brochures are offered to off-campus students, but it can be difficult getting them to attend face-to-face meetings.

The town created a flier titled “Living Off Campus in Amherst” that was distributed to all students living in rental properties in the community. The flier provides advice about how to be a good neighbor, as well fire safety tips, such as the risks of leaving upholstered furniture on decks and porches.

But efforts to reduce risks associated with off-campus fires must involve parents, Comeau said.

“Parents and students need to be better educated about a fire-safe environment,” he said.

He said they should be looking for housing with sprinklers.

“We encourage students to be educating themselves in picking a fire-safe place,” Comeau said.

Unfortunately, he added, to find units that meet rent guidelines and are located on a bus line, they may compromise.

Campus Firewatch has developed “9 Fires,” a 19-minute video about off-campus fires that occurred in January and February 2012. The video, which features interviews with families and fire survivors, can be found at www.mingerfoundation.org/9-fires.

“We’re creating tools for schools to reach out with,” Comeau said.

Part of this education may also be supported through federal grant money. Comeau said Congress is expected to consider a Campus Fire Safety Education Act bill next month that would provide money for such education for the entire time a student is in school, whether living on or off campus.

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