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Fire safety standards are up-to-date at ND

Kate Antonacci | Tuesday, November 23, 2004

In the wake of an Oct. 17 fire in a Washington D.C. row house that killed a Georgetown University student, the issue of fire safety has sparked debate on college campuses – including at several of Notre Dame’s student housing options.The Notre Dame Fire Department responds to roughly 1,200 campus calls per year, of which about 300 are emergency medical calls and about 90 are actual fires, said University fire chief John Antonucci.Notre Dame is confident in its fire safety program, he added. Many necessary technology upgrades were made in the wake of the Jan. 19, 2000 fire at Seton Hall University, which killed three students and injured 58, Antonucci said.”Before the Seton Hall disaster, every residence hall was either partially or completely protected by sprinkler systems,” Antonucci said. “After Seton Hall, we chose to leap into the forefront and have all of our residence halls fully protected by automatic sprinklers. We embarked on a very aggressive retro-fit program.”Prior to the Seton Hall fire, 12 of the 27 dorms were fully protected. In the 18 months following the fire, complete sprinkler systems and fire alarms were installed in the remaining 15, according to Antonucci. Four firefighters are on duty at the on-campus fire station, located across from the powerhouse, at all times as well.Leading technology detection systems, which show the exact detector that is alarming, protect all undergraduate dorms and graduate housing residences.”Our next task is a comprehensive fire safety program that includes fire safety education,” Antonucci said. “If you cannot remove the human element from the incident then you cannot prevent the incident. Though sprinklers do save lives, they do not prevent the incident.”Antonucci said he believes Notre Dame’s safety programs have been successful because of the relatively low number of serious fires per year.”Three years ago [in] Welsh Family, there was a fire in a room started by a curling iron,” he said. However, damage from the fire was fairly minimal. “That particular room happened to have two automatic sprinklers that immediately extinguished the fire,” said Antonucci. “Unfortunately the room was on the third floor, so the water went down to the second floor. But luckily, the only damage was from the water.”After fires at Castle Point Apartments in October, three smoke detectors were placed in each hallway and in all of the laundry rooms, where two trashcan fires erupted, apartment manager Omar Zidan said. College Park Apartments include two smoke detectors in each unit, as well as in the hallway. Additionally, all tenets are asked to abide by the non-flammable rule, meaning nothing flammable can be brought into the apartments.”We went in about a month ago and installed new exit lighting in case of fires, something that will stay and remain lit,” said Patty Russwurm, property manager at College Park.At Georgetown, the D.C fire department found numerous violations in the basement apartment of 21-year old Daniel Rigby, including missing required smoke detectors and blocked exit doors. Their investigation led to inspection of other off-campus housing at the university.