Reps. Pascrell, Wilson, Sen. Corzine Introduce College Campus Safety Measure
Lawmakers joined by Dana Christmas, a student resident assistant who
saved countless lives in the deadly Seton Hall University Fire of 2000
WASHINGTON - U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ, 8th), Joe Wilson (R-SC, 2nd), and U.S. Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) today announced the introduction of "The Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act of 2003." The legislation, designed to address the epidemic of dangerous college campus fires, was initially introduced in 2000 in response to a massive fire at Seton Hall (NJ) University that claimed the lives of three students and injured more than fifty others.
The lawmakers were joined by a special guest, Dana Christmas, who was a senior and resident assistant at Seton Hall University's Boland Hall where the fire occurred. Ms. Christmas, widely known as the Angel of Boland Hall, saved countless lives by alerting students of the fire even as she herself was burning, suffering severe injuries. Ms. Christmas spoke about the severity of the problem and the importance of the legislation.
"The Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act" amends the Higher Education Act to require disclosure of fire safety information on campuses and a report from the Secretary of Education to Congress on the depth of the problem and possible solutions. It uses the same procedure that requires schools to disclose crime statistics and other safety information.
"Today, we heard from a true heroine in Dana Christmas. I hope her story helps to put a face on the severe problem of campus fires. This bill forces schools to evaluate themselves and improve safety for each student and faculty member, so tragedies like the one Dana bravely stood through do not continue to occur," stated Rep. Pascrell, who is introducing the measure for the third time. "If we can require colleges and universities to compile and distribute crime safety information, we can and should do the same for fire safety. No student or family should be in the dark about a school's fire safety record. It should not take another catastrophe to ensure safety."
"A child's safety is a parent's number one priority, and we deserve to know about the environment our children will be living under," added Rep. Joe Wilson, who is sponsoring the legislation along with Pascrell. "Today, we are simply asking colleges and universities to share this vital information with parents and students. No one should have to suffer as Dana has, and this bill is a chance to stop other tragedies from happening. I am pleased support this bipartisan effort and commend Rep. Pascrell and Sen. Corzine for their leadership in protecting our nation's students from harm."
"This bill would put important fire safety information in the hands of parents who entrust their children to our nation's colleges and universities," said Senator Corzine, who will be sponsoring the bill in the Senate. "Parents and students deserve to know what steps their school has taken to prevent and prepare for fires in their dormitories."
Representatives from the National Fire Protection Association, Congressional Fire Services Institute, the International Association of Arson Investigators, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Volunteer Fire Council also participated in the press conference.
"This legislation is important to students, employees and the parents' of students across the U.S. It will provide valuable information to enable students to make wise decisions based on all the facts - not just the record of the football team," stated John Biechman, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Fire Protection Association.
"This legislation, when enacted, will provide greater protection to hundreds of thousands of students as well as piece of mind to their parents," said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. "The fire and emergency services appreciates the leadership of Congressman Pascrell and Wilson and Senator Corzine in sponsoring this measure and look forward to working with them on its passage."
Only 35% of dormitories and fraternity/sorority houses that suffer fires are equipped with sprinkler systems. Approximately 1,600 fires break out in dormitories and fraternity/sorority houses each year. In recent years, fires have claimed lives at Bloomsburg (PA) Univ., UC-Berkeley (two occasions), Millikin (IL) Univ., Univ. of Dayton, MIT, Univ. of Pittsburg, Lee (TN) College, and NYU.
The legislation requires colleges to provide students and parents with a description of campus fire safety policies and records, including the following:
- Information on each on-campus residence hall including fraternities and sororities, and whether it is equipped with fire sprinklers or other fire safety systems such as fire alarms or smoke detectors.
- Statistics on the number of actual fires in each residence hall including fraternities and sororities, including information on deaths, injuries and structural damage over the previous two years.
- Information on fire escape planning and rules on portable electrical appliances, smoking and open flames, mandatory fire drills and any planned improvements in fire safety.
- Information about fire safety education and training provided to students, faculty and staff.
- It directs the Secretary of Education to report back to Congress of the current status of fires safety systems and make recommendations to Congress two years after passage.
In the wake of Seton Hall University's tragic fire on January 19, 2000, which killed 3 students and injured over 50 others, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. with Congresswoman Marge Roukema (R-NJ, 5th) and Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) introduced the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act in the 106th Congress.
An earlier version of the bill was attached as an amendment to H.R. 4504, the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 2000. This bill passed the House by voice vote on June 12, 2000. Separately, this legislation was added as an amendment to the Education Savings Account Act that passed the Senate.
Although the House and Senate have both passed this provision, it was in two different vehicles, so the language did not become law.
The Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act is supported by the following organizations: Campus Fire Watch, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the International Association of Arson Investigators, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, the National Fire Protection Association, the National Volunteer Fire Council.