Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Campus Fire Safety Month

Oct 6, 2009
Floor Speech


   Mr. PASCRELL. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Colorado and the ranking member. I rise today in strong support of H. Res. 167, which recognizes the goals and ideals of the Campus Fire Safety Month. We just marked the start of a new school year for many college students across this great Nation. This is an opportunity to teach students about the dangers that fires pose both on and off the campus and the steps that students can take in order to remain safe and secure.

   This year, over 27 States and the United States Senate have recognized the importance of Campus Fire Safety Month. I am proud that the House will soon join them in bringing awareness to this critical issue.

   Madam Speaker, I first became deeply involved in the issue of campus safety after experiencing the aftermath of a catastrophic fire at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, in 2000. That dorm fire killed three young freshmen--Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota, and John Giunta--and it could have been avoided. It injured 58 other students. One of those students came from my city of Paterson, New Jersey, Dana Christmas McCain. She was a survivor, but the reason she got burned so severely, she was helping others escape the fire.

   Since that tragedy, we have seen thousands of fires rage through campuses and off campuses in our colleges and universities, killing 135 students since January 2000. Many of these deaths could have been prevented through effective fire prevention education and awareness, improved building and fire codes and legislation at the local, State, and Federal levels. A key to this is engaging today's college students, making them aware of their personal responsibility for fire safety and the role they play in protecting themselves, friends, and roommates. To reinforce this message, the theme for this safety month is ``Fire Safety--It's Part of Living.''

   We are making progress. We passed the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act. I introduced that with Congressman Joe Wilson. It was signed into law last year. Its provisions will soon go into effect nationwide. And I can remember and Mr. Wilson can remember how some colleges and universities fought us on this. Parents have a right to know what is going on on that campus when their children apply to that college, whether they take it seriously or they don't take it seriously. We need to require colleges and universities to provide those same students and parents with the report of the school's campus fire safety policies and records, providing a powerful incentive for them to voluntarily upgrade their safety systems and save lives.

   Educating students about fire safety during their time in school will have a strong impact on the choices they make in the future. That is why I am working on new legislation that will provide schools with the resources to develop and deliver new and innovative campus fire safety education programs to their students.

   On September 17, 2009, the launch of the fifth annual National Campus Fire Safety Month was held here on Capitol Hill. My brother, Mr. Wilson, was there. At that event, I met with and spoke to a contingent of people from across the Nation, including 20 students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, parents who have lost children in campus-related fires, fire officials, and advocates who came together for this launch to discuss the important issues of campus fire safety and the legislation currently moving through the Congress. They were led by four national leaders in campus fire safety, including Campus Fire Watch, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, Ohio Fire Safety Coalition, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

   I want to commend everyone who came to Capitol Hill and the thousands more around the country who work tirelessly each day to educate our students, our sons and daughters, their families, faculty, and staff about the danger of fires on our college campuses. Far too many families have had to suffer the unbearable horror of losing a loved one right at the beginning of a promising life.

   I will continue to work hard every day to make our colleges safer, secure places for future generations to learn and to grow.

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