LINCOLN — The national headquarters of Sigma Nu fraternity has suspended activities at its University of Nebraska-Lincoln chapter after firefighters found bottles of alcohol along with piles of trash scattered throughout the house Sunday afternoon.
Inspectors cited numerous fire code violations and deemed the house at 625 N. 16th St. unsafe for habitation, forcing approximately 50 chapter members to take up temporary residence with family and friends in the area.
“The condition of the property when the officials arrived resulted in them being concerned about the safety of the residents, and that’s what led to our action — the fact that they were concerned enough to have the residents vacate the property,” said Brad Beacham, executive director of Sigma Nu, headquartered in Lexington, Va. “Obviously the safety of the students is priority No. 1.”
Beacham said Monday that it’s not uncommon for the organization to take similarly “protective” action. While suspended, the UNL chapter, called Delta Eta, can’t hold any meetings or sponsored events in Sigma Nu’s name.
The chapter has been active since 1909, and the house was built in 1927.
Firefighters were called to the house around 12:30 p.m. Sunday when a chemical odor and a haze spread throughout the fraternity. It was later determined the stench was caused by spilled cleaning fluids, said Todd Duncan, assistant chief of the UNL Police Department.
Duncan said the haze may have been caused by a fire extinguisher deployed before firefighters arrived.
While searching through the house, investigators spotted the trash and alcohol.
"The house was in disarray," said university communications director Steve Smith.
The university will find housing for students who can't find a place to stay, Smith said, but those students would have to pay for it.
Lincoln Fire and Rescue inspectors will walk through the house Tuesday to determine what needs to be fixed if the house is to be reopened, Smith said.
Because the house is an off-campus entity, Smith said, the inspection will be led by Lincoln fire officials rather than the university itself. University officials will determine a course of action following the inspection.
"That should provide everybody a timeline for when the occupants of the house can return," Smith said. "If and when."
In addition, a police investigation is underway to determine whether any criminal activity occurred inside the house, such as tampering with its fire alarm. Six people were inside at the time of the call, which was prompted by interaction with the fire alarm, Smith said.
The house was condemned last May, according to records from the Lancaster County Assessor's Office, but was reopened in June after receiving a certificate of compliance.