Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phi Psi at OSU Lose House to Explosion

Explosion rocks frat house
By Tom Henderson
Corvallis Gazette-Times

With only seconds to spare, an Oregon State University fraternity president rescued 12 students and their dog right before their living room blew up in a gas explosion Saturday around 2 p.m.

No one was hurt in the blast that ripped through the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, but students and firefighters credit Phi Kappa Psi President Christopher Gerritz for a timely rescue.

Eight fraternity brothers were watching the OSU football game in a room directly above the boiler when Gerritz popped into the house for a couple of minutes. While his fraternity brothers watched the game, he heard a sound and smelled natural gas. He went down to the boiler room to investigate.

“The steam was just billowing out of the door,” he said.Gerritz said he knew he might have just seconds to act. He immediately cleared out the eight students watching TV and another four who were in their rooms. He also made sure the house dog, a Labrador-fox terrier mix named Yaeger, was rescued. He then led his fraternity brothers and the dog across the street.

The explosion followed in about 30 seconds, Gerritz said. “It sounded like an M-80 going off, only worse.”

“We didn’t smell the gas,” said Kevin Dwyer, one of the students who was watching the game. “I noticed it as soon as Chris saved my life.”

Gerritz, an Air Force ROTC student, said he’s starting to feel jinxed at the number of times calamity has visited the fraternity house in recent weeks.

On Oct. 14, fraternity alumnus and honorary “house dad” Jack Price was fatally injured just outside the house at 140 N.W. 13th St. Price, who was volunteering his time at the house to help rehab its kitchen, started his large pickup from under the hood when it lurched forward and ran him over. He died soon afterward at the hospital.

A couple of weeks later, one of the fraternity members was arrested after a 21-year-old woman from Portland accused him of raping her during a Halloween party at the fraternity house. The 19-year-old is free on bail pending a legal resolution of the charges.

This is Gerritz’s second year as president. It’s been exasperating, he said.“It all happens to us,” Gerritz said. “Just when I want to quit, everything literally explodes.”

Still, Sgt. Jim Zesslin of the Corvallis Police Department said Gerritz can feel good about himself: “He did everything right.”

Gerritz’s parents, Steve and Sandy Gerritz of Medford, were in Corvallis visiting their son for OSU Dads’ Weekend, and his dad was across the street when the boiler exploded.

“It was one of those things right out of a war movie,” Steve Gerritz said.

An hour later, Steve Gerritz said he still felt jittery thinking about how close his son came to disaster. Nonetheless, he was filled with pride for his son’s reaction to a crisis.“He’s always been that way -. when things get scary, when things get bad, Chris is always calm. He’s a leader.”

Zessin said the explosion probably was caused by a natural gas leak. The streets around the fraternity were closed off for more than an hour.

The living room in the fraternity house took most of the damage, and windows were broken out. The house will be closed for at least a day, Zessin said.

Most of the 27 students who live in the fraternity were gone at the time of the explosion. Many of them were attending the game.

Following the explosion, Gerritz called all the fraternity residents who didn’t know about the explosion to let them know they’d need to find another place to sleep Saturday night.

During a weekend designed to make dads proud, Steve Gerritz said Saturday was a day he’ll never forget.“This was heroic,” he said. “Chris’ timing was absolutely phenomenal.”