In an effort to update fire and safety systems on campuses around the nation, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is co-sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make funds from the U.S. Department of Education available for use by college dorms, apartments, and fraternities.
The State legislature considered a similar bill numerous times before finally passing it in March 2000.
The bill required that sprinklers be placed in all dorms. A law already in existence required all high rises to be equipped with sprinklers; however, dormitories were left out.
After a fire at Seton Hall in January 2000 in which several students died, the legislature pushed the bill through, giving UW dormitories funds to update their fire-safety regulations and install sprinklers.
Bernadette Galvez of the Madison fire chief’s office said that regulations are already in place at several UW-Madison dorms, including Ogg Hall and Sellery Hall.
They include a ban on candles, posters and hot plates. The university also has penalties for having improperly installed fire alarms and faulty fire extinguishers.
These regulations were passed after a 1997 fire in Ogg Hall.
“The bill is important for Madison because it puts safety first,” Jerilyn Goodman, press secretary for Baldwin, said.
Other ways to increase safety in dorms include staying in the kitchen while cooking, and watching for smoldering cigarettes where smoking is allowed. Candles should also be kept in a sturdy container and extinguished when leaving the room.
“Torch lamps have been known to be a problem,” Galvez said, “People should not use halogen light bulbs, but should use incandescent instead.”
The legislation is authored by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, and is supported by the College Parents of America and the Fire Protection Association.
Bill sponsors also plan to add amendments giving private residence halls access to the safety fund.
“Fire safety and campus safety is very important to Congresswoman Baldwin, and has been,” Goodman said.
Priority would be given to those dorms or apartments that cannot afford to fund safety upgrades on their own. This would help fraternities and sororities to meet safety standards as soon as possible.
The bill allocates $100 million every year for five years. It does not create mandatory rules for sprinkling systems, but does enable those buildings that wish to install sprinkler systems to do so.
“Fire prevention is clearly an important issue,” ASM Rep. Elizabeth Stinebaugh said. “However, I am perplexed by legislation that calls for $500 million to improve fire safety without mandating sprinkler systems.”
“When the government has an opportunity to support funds that increase safety, it should take it,” said Goodman.