Summit Takes Aim At Fire Safety On College Campuses

Washington, D.C. – A cross section of some 40 fire officials, fire scientists, legislators and university officials convened on Capital Hill today to discuss solutions to what appears to be a growing number of fires in college dormitories and off-campus student housing.

The summit was organized by the Center for Campus Fire Safety and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, who earlier this year introduced a bill in the House (HR 128 College Fire Prevention Act) that would provide matching federal funds to colleges for installing sprinkler systems and other fire protection technology in student housing.

“An aggressive three-pronged approach that emphasizes fire prevention, detection and suppression is an effective approach to combating this problem,” said Ed Comeau, director of the non-profit Center for Campus Fire Safety and publisher of the online newsletter Campus Firewatch.

Comeau noted that 11 students have died in fires during this academic year, most recently at the University of Maryland in College Park, where one student died in an off-campus fire in April. Other fires claimed three off-campus students at Miami University in Ohio and three fraternity members at the University of Mississippi as well as in State College, Pennsylvania, and Collegedale, Tennessee. Seventy-five students have died in fires since the beginning of 2000.

Comeau noted that 75 percent of student deaths occur in off-campus residences, where most students live. He added that information about on-campus fire prevention, education and suppression is scarce. “We really do not know the current state of fire protection at our colleges and universities because they have not been required to make that information available,” he said. “Legislation introduced by Congressman Pascrell yesterday will give prospective students and their parents access to that very important information,” he said.

At a news conference following the summit Comeau and Jones were joined by Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, each of whom announced legislation they recently introduced in support of improved fire protection in student housing:

  • Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act: Similar to the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report statistics for violent crimes which occur on campus, Rep. Pascrell’s Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act will require schools to provide information about fire safety to the U.S. Department of Education. According to the congressman, such a requirement will help students and their parents in selecting schools.
  • Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act: Introduced in March by Rep. Weldon, this law would reduce the depreciation schedule on the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems from the existing 27 years to five years, thus encouraging off-campus landlords to install the systems in student housing. Companion legislation (S 512) was introduced in the Senate.
  • Declaration of September as Campus Fire Safety Month: Both Sen. DeWine and Rep. Jones announced their intention to introduce resolutions to the Senate and House respectively to designate the month of September as Campus Fire Safety Month. The designation would provide a platform to promote and encourage fire safety on campus annually.

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