Fire sparks concern over GW hall safety

University officials say GW is compliant with D.C. fire codes and regulations, after last week’s tragic residence-hall fire, which claimed the lives of three students and injured 63 at Seton Hall University.

GW plans to review fire safety procedures with students and staff, according to a University press release.

GW parents contacted University offices for information on student safety in the residence halls after the Seton Hall fire. Director of Parent Services Rodney Johnson said his office received numerous calls from concerned parents, as did the Office of Housing Services.

The cause of the fire at Seton Hall has not yet been confirmed, but officials at the West Orange, N.J., university have been criticized in the media for not having a sprinkler system in its six-story Boland Hall, which housed mostly freshmen. After 18 false alarms sounded in the residence hall since last September, many freshmen who heard the alarm early in the morning Jan. 19 said they did not take it seriously and went back to sleep.

On the Foggy Bottom campus, residence halls are equipped with sprinkler systems in the hallways and all rooms have smoke detectors, according to a fact sheet from Parent Services. Rooms with kitchens and all hallways have fire extinguishers.

But not all individual rooms are equipped with sprinklers. A building fully equipped with a sprinkler system helps prevent multiple losses of life in a fire situation, according to the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s Web site. The AFSA reports that property losses in residences with fire sprinklers are 85 percent less than those without them.

The GW fact sheet assures that fire drills are performed at the start of every semester to evaluate emergency evacuation routes, fire safety equipment and resident behavior during the drill.

Students who do not evacuate their rooms during the drill could be fined $50, assigned to community service or receive an educational sanction where he or she must watch a fire safety video.

(University Police and community facilitators) do make you leave (during a drill), said Thurston resident Rachel Gore. They go around and check every room. You get your butt kicked if you’re still there.

Several Hall on Virginia Avenue residents were cited in September for not leaving the building after an alarm went off.

The alarm isn’t that loud in HOVA, and that’s been a problem, said HOVA resident Shawn Costa. It’s not loud enough to hear if someone’s in the shower even. Some of the students who didn’t leave the building last semester had to go to fire safety classes, but I think some of them just didn’t hear it go off.

The punishment for setting off a false alarm is a $400 alarm reset fee and the risk of being evicted from the campus housing system, as stated in a University press release. Surveillance cameras guard fire alarms in the halls in an attempt to capture violators of the student code.

There have been three to five false alarms (in Thurston) that I can remember this school year, Gore said. We all go out, and it always takes so long to get back in. During final exams there were two in one day, and we were outside for hours. It was horrible.

CFs are supposed to hold meetings in each residence hall to educate students on fire evacuation procedures and safety equipment at the beginning of the academic year, according to the GW fact sheet. CFs also conduct monthly room inspections that include checks for candles and incense, overflowing electrical sockets and other fire hazards that the University prohibits in rooms.

Right at the beginning of the year (HOVA CFs) gave us information on fire safety – made us aware of fire exits, extinguishers and procedure, said Costa, a freshman.

I heard nothing about fire safety from anyone in (Francis Scott Key Hall) this year, said junior Jill Levey. Right now I’m worried because there’s this heater in my kitchen that I can’t turn off. I called my dad, and he was worried too because it could really start a fire.

Smoking is only permitted in residence hall rooms that are designated as smoking rooms, according to the Code of Student Conduct. The Student Life Committee of the GW Parents’ Association Council recently wrote a letter to President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg asking GW to re-examine the possibility of completely barring smoking from residence halls because of its hazardous threat to students’ health and safety.

(GW) doesn’t allow smoking in any other buildings on campus, Johnson said. We just want them to reconsider the request. The council is only making a suggestion.

In 1979, a fire similar to the one at Seton Hall occurred in Thurston Hall, but there were no fatalities. At the time, Thurston was not equipped with a sprinkler system.

University Archivist G. David Anderson said he could recall no major fires at the University since.

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