Universities across the country are not required to install sprinkler systems in on and off-campus housing.
According to a March 2002 article by Steve Giegerich of The Associated Press, 38 U.S. college students have died in on-campus fires. Giegerich said he fears that more deaths will have to occur before some type of preventitive legislation is passed.
The only housing at FAMU that have sprinkler systems in the residents’ living spaces are in the Palmetto complex. In other residencies, the sprinkler systems are located in the basements and attics.
Owen N. Hart, senior environmental health and safety specialist at FAMU, said the reason is that fires are more likely to occur in these areas when no one is around.
“I strongly recommend sprinkler systems in buildings if it’s reasonable,” Hart said. “However, the fire code allows a lot of exceptions.”
Even though fire extinguishers are placed in every dorm, Hart still has concerns.
“Most students wouldn’t know how to use them or what type of fire to use them on,” Hart said.
Resident assistant Krystal Gray agrees.
“I know what a fire extinguisher is,” said the 19-year-old psychology student from Detroit. “But if you asked me how to use it in an emergency I wouldn’t have a clue.”
Fires in the dorms usually are a result of students using appliances that create fire hazards. The housing department distributes a brochure every semester to residents who move on campus. The brochure, titled “Residence Life Helpful Hints,” lists what appliances residents may and may not use in their rooms.
Prohibited appliances and devices include regular household extension cords, halogen lamps, hot plates, toaster ovens, space heaters, candles, incense, fryers, electric skillets and electric grills.
“When students are caught with theses things, the fine is usually $42.50, for each item,” Gray said. “I don’t see why students would want to risk their safety and their money, if the rules are already given to them.”
For safety reasons, fire drills are required twice a semester and the state fire marshal conducts routine inspections. Although the dorms are usually evacuated in four to 10 minutes, Hart said some students don’t leave the building at all.
“Despite that some students don’t take [fire drills] seriously, it’s still good practice for those that do,” said resident assistant Connie Campell. “After a few minutes when everyone appears to be out, Mr. Hart goes over our evacuation time and gives some safety tips.”
No formal class or lecture is given to students about fire safety. At the beginning of the semester, resident assistants undergo lectures about evacuation plans. However, they aren’t specifically trained on handling a fire.
“I’ve had previous training on fire safety and how to deal with fires from my years of being a Girl Scout,” Campell said. “Even though I’ve never had to deal with a serious fire, I know that there’s no guarantee that I won’t in the future.”
Both Campell and Hart agree that fire awareness training would benefit all residents.
Hart said, “It would be sad if something tragic happened in order for people to realize the seriousness of the issue.”
Danielle D. Hines can be reached at Danielledhines@hotmail.com.