Mar 2, 2000
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced legislation requiring colleges and universities to address the need for sprinklers, smoke alarms, and flame retardant furniture in dormitories. The Fire Safe Dorm Act of 2000 will improve the fire safety of the nation's college and university housing from the Federal level. Also today, Senator Frank Launtenberg (D-NJ) introduced companion legislation in the US Senate.

The Fire Safe Dorm Act (FSDA) requires institutions of higher learning to disclose to students and parents whether their dorms are fully sprinkler-equipped and smoke alarm-equipped. It mandates that the U.S. Fire Administration develop dorm room safety standards that will require sprinklers, smoke alarms, and flame retardant furniture. Institutions will then be required to adopt compliance plans that meet the Fire Administration standard or risk their eligibility for federal student aid within 10 years. While building codes in most states require new high-rise dorms to install sprinklers, the Fire Safe Dorm Act will apply to all dorms, new and old, in the country.

"Just a few weeks ago, a fire broke out in a New York University dorm, and was extinguished quickly by the building's sprinkler system," Maloney said today. "NYU's case affirmed what we know to be true: sprinkler-equipped dorm buildings save lives. Still, approximately 67% of colleges and universities have no sprinkler systems in dorm rooms.

"With snowballing numbers of young people attending college, and colleges forced to house students in increasingly over-crowded arrangements, students and their families have a right to know if they will be safe from fire in their residences," Maloney continued.

"The FSDA will make colleges and universities disclose information about whether dormitory rooms currently have sprinklers or smoke detectors. It also requires them to adopt plans that will increase dorm fire safety for colleges coast to coast. Keeping kids safe from fire is serious business, and our bill forces the federal government to step up to the plate on fire safety," Maloney said.

"Colleges and universities have the responsibility to take care of our children because, let's face it, dorm fire safety isn't the first thing on the minds of college students," said Rep. Holt. "Schools need to make an extra effort to ensure fire safety, and parents and students have the right-to-know what colleges are doing to prevent tragedies like the recent one at Seton Hall University.

"Most colleges in New Jersey will have no problem complying with the provisions of the bill," Rep. Holt continued. "And fire safety should never be a considered a question of cost. If this legislation saves one life, it will be worth it."

"Increasingly crowded conditions inside college dormitories make them a special risk where fire is concerned," Senator Lautenberg said Thursday. "This legislation will make sure that fire safety is a top priority at every college and university - and that students know enough to avoid dormitories that can't yet provide a safe environment."

The need for sprinklers, smoke alarms and flame retardant furniture in dorm rooms increases each year. Last fall 14.9 million students entered U.S. colleges and universities. This record number of college and university enrollees may pressure administrators to house students in crowded quarters that could increase the incidence of fatal dorm fires.

Fire safety is an often overlooked risk of living in the high-rise dorms that many institutions favor. According to a September 1999, joint report by the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, 25 percent of college housing fires occur in buildings over seven stories. These taller buildings pose special problems for fire fighters as upper floors are difficult to reach and emergency evacuation is complicated by large numbers of residents.

The installation of fire sprinklers, smoke detectors and flame retardant materials will significantly reduce fire risk. Aside from lives lost from fire fighting and explosion fatalities, a multiple loss of life fire has never occurred in a fully sprinkler-equipped building due to fire or smoke.

Maloney is the author of H.R.1126, a bill to require fire sprinklers in newly-constructed multifamily housing in NYC if it receives federal funding. The bill, which recently passed in the House of Representatives, closes a loophole in the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 which mandated fire sprinklers in all federally funded multifamily housing except New York City. Maloney also authored a number of bills in the New York City Council regulating the installation of fire sprinklers and mandating the professional inspection of those systems.