New York Fire Experts Call for More Stringent Higher Education Housing Safety Mandates

It’s a fact. When temperatures grow cold, serious home fires tend to increase.  According to data from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), heating equipment resulted in an estimated 57,100 home structure fires, 490 civilian deaths, 1,530 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage in 2010. According to FEMA, heating related fires consist of 27 percent of all structural fires during the cold winter months (January 2005 study). This public safety problem is not only isolated to family homes.

According to Campus Firewatch, at least 162 students across the US have died in college-related fires since 2000. College housing generally has a higher tenant density, with regular overuse of extension cords and halogen lamps as well as overloading of electrical sockets. Roughly 70 percent of fires in college housing begin in cooking areas, according to the NFPA. While just 7 percent start in bedrooms, those account for 27 percent of injuries and 21 percent of all property damage.

In 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Kerry Rose Fire Sprinkler Notification Act, requiring universities and colleges to finally provide students written details on fire safety and sprinkler systems present in college-owned or operated housing. Under previous guidelines, colleges were only required to publish their fire safety standards in an annual report filed with the federal government. The new law is named after Kerry Rose Fitzsimons, a Marist College senior who died in an off-campus fire along with two friends in January 2012.
The National Center for Education Statistics says a record 21.8 million students are enrolled at colleges, with more than 1.2 million of those in New York State.

Michael McManus, President of the Albany based New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association and a veteran professional firefighter from Binghamton, NY, said, “Colleges and universities are places where our children go to learn and this law will educate them about the importance of fire safety. The facts are very clear: fire sprinklers are a cheap investment that will go a long way in saving lives and reducing property damage. We must use every opportunity to remind property owners that fire sprinklers save lives.”

Currently the state of California mandates pet stores be sprinklered and New York is considering similar legislation. New York college housing is not required to be sprinklered, something many families of college students would be shocked to learn.

“With so many college students in New York State, we felt the need to act now, as lawmakers, to prevent any further loss in the future. The Kerry Rose law will require colleges to notify students about fire safety systems and will encourage dialogue about fire safety at schools. This law gives parents and students the proper information and tools so they can make the safest and most informative decision when choosing college housing,” said N.Y. State Senator Joseph Robach (R-Rochester), sponsor of the law.

“Colleges and Universities are part of the economic engine of our state. With more than one million students in New York, we should be doing more to protect them and encourage the best practices in college housing. The stats are clear: fire sprinklers have a near 100% success rate in preventing fire deaths. The Kerry Rose Fire Sprinkler Notification Act serves as a building block as we work towards better fire safety and more fire suppression systems in college housing,” said Pat Dolan, President of Steamfitters Local 638.

“Some years ago, I responded to a horrific college housing fire adjacent to our fire house in New Rochelle, NY. Students were standing on a third-story window ledge preparing to jump onto a concrete sidewalk,” said Byron Gray, President of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association Local 273.”Unfortunately, that scene has become increasingly common due to the perfect storm of faulty fire safety equipment, overcrowding and older, less modern housing stock being used for both on and off campus housing.” He continued, “I have a daughter in college right now and I sleep better at night knowing that her housing’s fire systems are intact and up-to-date.”

Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Queens), also a sponsor of the law, added, “The Kerry Rose Fire Sprinkler Notification Act is a good first step in educating students, their parents and the public about the importance of fire sprinklers in college housing. It is my hope that in the years to come, we will take up more fire safety measures to protect college students. Our ultimate goal is to reduce fire fatalities and injuries and this law will do just that by educating students and parents about safety measures put in place by their schools.”

“As someone with more than three decades of firefighting experience in New York, I can tell you, without question, fire sprinklers save lives and reduce property damage,” said FDNY Captain Al Hagan, President Uniformed Fire Officers Association of the Fire Department of the City of New York. “Lots of elected officials talk about public safety, but in this instance our Governor and legislature are doing something proactive about it. We must do everything in our power to protect our most important resource, our children, and that is why we are advocating for better fire safety protections on university and college campuses. It is our hope that in the near future we’ll be able to say all of New York’s college housing has fire sprinklers.”


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