New legislation would promote college fire sprinklers

The proposed law contains incentives for Greek housing
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

PATTERSON, N.Y.—A bill to promote fire sprinklers in student housing, including sororities and fraternities, has just been reintroduced in Congress.

The National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) is highlighting the bill on its web site, saying that the Stephanie Tubbs Jones College Fire Prevention Act has been reintroduced by members of the Ohio delegation: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland.

According to the NFSA, which is based here, “The act would establish an incentive program within the Department of Education to promote the installation of fire sprinkler systems in qualified student housing. The program will provide competitive matching grants that will fund up to half of the installation costs, with priority given to applicants that demonstrate the greatest financial need. The legislation would reserve at least 10 percent of the funds in the grant program for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions and at least 10 percent of the funds for fraternities and sororities.”

This is actually the seventh time the bill has been introduced in Congress, Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch, a monthly, electronic newspaper about campus fire safety, told Security Systems News. However, he said, it’s not atypical for legislation to return repeatedly until it gains enough sponsorship and support for passage. “It’s certainly a life saving type of legislation. You have to keep trying,” he said.

Comeau said it was first introduced in 2000 by then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C) following a 2000 dormitory fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey that killed three students. Comeau said Edwards also was motivated by a fatal fire in 1996 at a fraternity at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Then, in 2001, Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones introduced the legislation, Comeau said. She died in 2008 and the bill is named after her.

Comeau said, “In this day and age, any bill that’s calling for money is going to have a tough row to hoe.” But he urged industry members to contact their elected members of  Congress to tell them to support the bill, which would cover Greek housing, not just dormitories.

He said that sprinklers recently saved lives in a fire last week at a fraternity near Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.

News reports cite authorities saying they had to break down doors and rouse drunken students to rescue them from the Oct. 28 blaze. A fire marshal said that there would have been fatalities if sprinklers had not been in the building. “Unquestionably, here’s an example of the effect of sprinklers saving lives,” Comeau said.