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Campus Security Takes on Fire Safety.

On Wednesday, January 19, 2000, a fire broke out at a six-story dormitory at New Jersey's Seton Hall University. The fire led to the death of three freshmen and injuries to students, two firefighters, and two policemen. The dormitory, like many others across the nation, lacked a fire sprinkler system.

The backdraft from this incident is now raging across campuses nationwide and the halls of Congress, as schools and legislators alike have turned their focus on college and university fire safety. While about 1,800 fires take place in dormitories, fraternities, and sororities in a typical year, by and large the issue has only achieved national prominence in the wake of the Seton Hall incident.

The incident has helped spur Congress to propose two pieces of fire safety legislation. The first is S. 2l00, the College Fire Prevention Act, which seeks to require that all university housing and dormitories be equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems. The second is the Fire Safe Dorm Act of 2000 (S. 2178, H.R. 3831), which would require colleges and universities to disclose to students and parents any incidents of fires in dormitories, as well as plans to reduce fire hazards in universities It would also require the U.S. Fire Administration to establish fire safety standards for dormitories.

A few states also have pending legislation as well. Bills in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, for example, would require the installation of sprinklers in dormitories.

The Seton Hall fire roused more than legislators and security departments. E. Floyd Phelps, CPP, fire safety dinator for Southern Methodist University (SMU), points out that parents are beginning to ask about fire safety before sending their children off to school. For example, at SMU, parents have been calling the city fire chief to ask how safe the school is, says Phelps. Other fire departments across the country are probably getting similar calls, he says. "It shows there's a higher level of concern now."

The attention to fire safety is redefining how campus security departments deal with fire safety roles, campus security experts say. Many large schools like SMU have their own fire safety departments. But about 75 percent of colleges and universities either share the fire safety function between security and safety or have security principally responsible for fire safety, usually as a first responder, says Bruce Harman, CPP, director of public safety at New Jersey City University.

Harman notes that campus security departments across the nation are now looking at issues such as guard training, first response to fires, dormitory inspection, equipment testing, and false alarm investigation. Security managers are finding that they must "bone up on the fire safety aspects of [their] jobs," he says.

Harman, the former chairman of the ASIS Standing Committee on Educational Institutions, says that his school has undertaken a sprinkler program, an intensive retraining program for officers in fire safety, and an in-service program for faculty, students, and staff in evacuation procedures. He also points to lessons learned from past fires such as that at Seton Hall. For example, all false alarms should be investigated and every alarm should be treated as a real emergency. Moreover, Harman observes that reviewing fire safety protocol is a good time to revisit access control procedures. He notes that Seton Hall was believed to be a set fire and that unauthorized people may have been in the dormitory.
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Title Annotation:two fire safety bills in Congress
Author:GIPS, MICHAEL A.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:563
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:FORENSICS RESOURCE.
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