By Timothy P. Travers, EFO, CFO
New England Regional Manager
National Fire Sprinkler Association
The merits of having an automatic sprinkler system in your chapter house have been sufficiently documented in previous articles from the Center for Campus Fire Safety. Suffice it to say that it is the best risk management tool available to protect your property from a major fire and from the disruption that this can create and to protect lives of your members and guests while in your chapter house.
Should you be a tenant in a building owned by someone else, you should still have an interest in ensuring that your members and guests are safe while using the facility. This is especially true if the members are, in fact, residents in the building or chapter house. Not only should you have an interest, but, so too, you ultimately have liability for the physical conditions of the property and the life safety of the residents. There is no question that a significant amount of the liability lies with the building owner or landlord as they generally are in a better position to “control” the physical conditions of the building.
It is important that you carefully review your building lease with the landlord and clearly understand their responsibilities and obligations, as well as your own. Depending on these provisions, you may have some additional insurance obligations to address. We encourage you to call your insurance agent, or better yet, an Account Executive at MJ Insurance/Sorority Division with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your lease and/or regarding your liability as an organization.
The following steps should be considered as a tenant if your current building is not sprinklered and you have members sleeping in your property. After reviewing the lease and being clear on the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property, write to the landlord and inquire about his plans to install a sprinkler system in the building.
If there are indeed plans to sprinkler the property, you should mark your records and periodically check-up on the status. Once the fire sprinkler system is installed, follow up with your insurance Aaent about qualifying for a premium discount on your property coverage. If there are no plans to sprinkler the property, we would highly encourage you to communicate to the landlord the strong case of the merits of having a sprinkler system and your concern as a tenant in the facility without this very important life safety protection.
At this juncture, you should at least go through the process of determining whether you should remain as a tenant at the conclusion of your lease. The practical reality is that with campus-housing being a premium in the campus/city, you will have no choice but to remain. You can continue to use good risk management to reduce the potential of a fire in your chapter house. The most obvious recommendation is the prohibition of any incendiary devices like candles, incense burners, halogen lamps, etc.
Admittedly, as a tenant, you have very limited control over the physical conditions of a property. Your attempts at bringing the importance of a sprinkler system to the attention of the landlord and your continued risk management will serve as a valuable defense for your organization should a loss/tragedy occur, and you be named in a lawsuit.
Serious fires in student housing wreak almost unimaginable devastation and disruption; this potential warrants careful consideration of fire safety options. In particular, automatic sprinkler systems should be considered as a viable option; they have established an impressive record of preventing residential fire catastrophes, particularly in the hospitality industry. With technologies developed specifically for residential applications, automatic sprinkler systems are now commonplace in hotels and motels, where they afford the traveling public with a high level of fire safety. College students deserve this same high level of protection…and their parents expect it.
Timothy P. Travers has an extensive background in fire protection including over 35 years of service with the Whitman, (MA) Fire Department, a suburb of Boston. With over twenty years as chief of department, he has many appointments to his credit, including the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, Special Operations Team where he served as an operations chief; the Massachusetts Fire Service Commission where he was elected as chairman; the Task Force on Fire & Building Safety, a committee charged with making a comprehensive review of the Commonwealth’s building and fire codes; and the Fire Science Technology Program Advisory Board at Massasoit Community College. Tim is a Life Member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He can be contacted at Travers@NFSA.org.