GW is redoubling its enforcement of fire safety policies this semester, after a blaze on the ninth floor of Thurston Hall last spring left a student in critical condition and caused several thousand dollars of damage.
Students returning to campus this semester were notified that the University’s Office of Risk Management will be conducting periodic health and safety inspections throughout the year. All inspections except the first will be unannounced, and University employees will be cracking down on objects that pose a risk of starting a fire.
A small electric grill was to blame for the cause of last semester’s Thurston blaze, but the University will also be on high alert for other objects such as candles, incense and other flammable objects said Matt Nehmer, assistant director of media relations.
Nehmer added that University Police will be contacted if anything illegal is found during these searches, including alcohol possessed by underage students, drugs and drug paraphernalia, firearms and other weapons.
“The fire incident reinforced the need for the University to enforce the immediate removal of prohibited items,” Nehmer said. “The purpose of the periodic health and safety inspections is because of the need to help ensure the well being of all residents and the safety of the community.”
Risk Management personnel will also focus on examining electrical plugs, visually inspecting sprinkler heads, smoke detectors and other life-saving systems and assessing the general condition and cleanliness of the rooms. Personnel will remove any prohibited electrical devices and appliances that are prohibited. Disciplinary action may also be taken for any health and safety violation.
In the past, community facilitators were in charge of searching rooms for prohibited items. This year, University Health and Safety inspectors from the Office of Risk Management will conduct the searches.
Some students said they are bothered by the University’s increased efforts to search dorm rooms.
“I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” said sophomore Amanda Pober, who added that the University should only search dorms without kitchens. “If you’re allowing students to have gas stoves, we should be allowed to have candles. If we have a kitchen, I don’t think anything else would be more dangerous.”
“The guidelines are vague,” Pober added. “I don’t know how extensive the searches are going to be. I don’t want them going through my drawers.”
University staff members were particularly strict during move-in, posting signs telling students to “send prohibited items back home.”
While some students are upset over the new policy, Ed Comeau, director of the Campus Center for Fire Safety in Amherst, Mass., said that it is normal for a school to adopt a more aggressive safety policy following a fire event.
“It’s a teachable moment, when everyone is paying attention, to learn from an incident,” Comeau said.
The Center for Campus Fire Safety reported that there have been 75 deaths due to fires in student housing since January 2000.
“As diligent as you are, tragedies still visit,” Comeau said.