Several campus student groups were recently forced to comply with modified fire safety regulations initiated by Governor Pataki’s Executive Order 103, a move toward stronger fire prevention on college and university campuses.
Executive Order 103 establishes a Campus Fire Safety Task Force which was established after a January 2000 dorm fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey where more than 50 students were injured and three died. The task force, according to UR Environmental Health and Safety Fire Inspector Patrick Manfreda, is made up of state officials, college chancellors and student representatives, all of whom are required to review the fire standard policies of public and private colleges and universities in New York State and make recommendations to the Governor.
The UR Fire Marshal, out of the Environmental Health and Safety Department, oversees the fire safety programs. These programs are supported by departments such as Residential Life, facilities, and security. The State of New York Office of Fire Prevention and Control annually performs inspections of university-owned properties to ensure compliance, Manfreda said.
“This is a positive step and the program was established prior to any multi-fatal dorm fires at our university. I wish more states would follow suit with a program like this,” he added.
The improvements in fire regulation have significantly affected social relations and entertainment availability in the Drama House, according to junior and Drama House Secretary Nels Youngborg.
“We have a lounge on the third floor that has always had couches and a TV. The Fire Marshall designated it a hallway so we have had to remove the two couches, chair, two desks and a television, but it is 10 feet, 5 inches by 23 feet, 4 inches. It’s not a hallway,” he said. “It’s now just an empty space and it’s so sad because no one comes to the third floor to hang out anymore.”
Youngborg also said that the Drama House members were threatened with a $100 fine each day that they did not comply with the new regulations – however, there was no explanation of the executive order, nor further explanation as to the reasoning behind the new regulations.
“At first I thought it was a joke. Why would they tell us to move our stuff? So we told them to put down the couch. It was so abrupt we didn’t know what was going on until it they were in our house moving our furniture,” he said.
“These extra precautions are not adding to the college experience, but they are taking away from it. Not as many people are here and it’s not good for us,” Youngborg said. “We want people to want to live here and to keep it alive.”
Junior and Drama House President Kelly Smith agreed with Youngborg on the serious repercussions of the removal of furniture from the lounge, but explained that she understands the importance of fire safety.
“This is a major inconvenience to us, because there is no other common room in our house that is secure enough to keep those things in, or even that is central enough to be used as a living area,” Smith said. “We are complying with what the fire marshals have told us to do, and we understand that they aren’t personally responsible for these rules.”
Despite Smith’s agreement with the fire safety regulations, Drama House member Mike Caputo strongly disagreed with the actions taken by the state and campus fire marshals, and argued the fire marshal’s definition of a hallway.
“The lounge is a huge room that has been used as a lounge ever since Drama House started. A few friends and I went to Residential Life and found out that this ‘hallway’ actually has a room number, 300. I mean, my living room has doors on either side but it is still a room,” Caputo said. “The whole house is outraged. They never told us why they were removing furniture and I’ve never heard of any executive order. The least they could do is try to explain, or give you some written information on the fire regulations change.”
The recent modifications have also affected the Sigma Chi Fraternity, according to House Manager Colin Woodworth.
“We’ve had to do little things like taking everything out of the hallways. We’ve also been threatened with fines and given deadlines to fix everything up, but nothing too major,” he said. “All I know is what I’ve read on the state’s Web page, that there was a fire on some campus where some kids died, so here comes change. I do know that there was only one state inspector in years past, and they have added a few more. So because of the increase, they will be around multiple times a year instead of just once every other year.”
The additional fire regulations have also inconvenienced the upcoming production of “Triumph of Love,” with similar difficulties in securing open fire exits at the Drama House, according to sophomore and Technical Intern to the play Jon Poon.
“The set is designed for a round, meaning that there are audience members on all four sides of the stage. However, all audience members must have paths to two different fire exits and the aisles must be a certain dimension, cutting down on the amount of space that is available for seating and even backstage,” he said.
“The fire code causes an inconvenience to stage management as we cannot hang curtains to hide actors as they make their entrances and exits. The fire code also dictates that we cannot have our tech booth where it has been in the past as it is considered an obstruction to the fire exits.”
According to Manfreda, students can individually practice fire safety by evacuating buildings immediately after alarms sound, avoiding unnecessary contact with fire safety equipment, avoiding overloading electrical outlets, restricting appliances to coffee makers, refrigerators, microwaves and fans and refraining from burning candles.
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