Fires plagued the West Campus of Stony Brook University in the 1990s but that has become a problem of the past. A Stony Brook Statesman article from February 27, 1992, “Fire!,” states that 100 students were relocated and two were injured after an electrical fire at Dreiser College. The article claims the room that was ignited contained blackened, mangled bed frames and mattresses laying burnt and dispersed across the floor. In 2010, a room charred after a major fire is foreign to many students.
The 2010 Stony Brook University Annual Security and Fire Report states that nine residence hall fires took place in 2009. The fires were small incidents that only caused minor property damage. The university has come a long way from a massive electrical fire in Dreiser College to the minor fires that occur today.
Articles in the Statesman dating from 1994 to 1999 report of fires on campus. An article published in the Statesman on March 10, 1997, “Fire Breaks Out in Ammann College,” describes a fire that charred the apartment door of the building’s Residence Hall Director. Another Statesman article published on January 22, 1996, “Fire Breaks Out in Langmuir,” describes a fire that was sparked by an electrical outlet and left one student injured. In 1995 a fire broke out in Hamilton and engulfed all of the furniture in a suite, damaged the bathroom and all three bedrooms.
On January 19, 2000 a devastating fire tore through the a dorm at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey and killed three students and left four others critically injured. That fire caused Stony Brook University to crack down. In 2000, the university began to ensure that fire safety regulations were improved to prevent a catastrophe like the one at Seton Hall.
Before the university renovated the residence halls at the end of the Spring 2000 semester, many of the buildings did not meet fire safety codes and regulations. An article published in the Statesman on February 7, 2000, “Igniting Safety Concerns,” said “Out of 98 buildings at Stony Brook, 13 are partially equipped with sprinklers and 10 are partially protected.” In 2010, all of the residence halls have fire extinguishers, fire alarm systems, manual pull stations and either partial or full sprinklers.
“We have increased our fire prevention activities from years past,” said John Gallo, the manager of fire safety. “Educating our students, staff and faculty about the dangers of fire and how to prevent them directly links to the decrease in the number of fires we have had over the years.” The university and the Fire Marshals’ office work together to educate the campus community about the dangers of fires and how to prevent them from occurring.
At the beginning of each semester, Fire Marshals and the director of Residential Risk Management provide fire safety training for residence hall staff. “We go through training and they give us a PowerPoint presentation and a lecture,” said Emily Shan, a RA in Sanger College. “They show us outdoors how to use a fire extinguisher and ways to prevent a fire from happening.”
A minimum of two mandatory fire drills are conducted each semester in every residence hall. “The drills are extremely successful as it gives our students a chance to practice evacuating their buildings,” said Gallo. “It is always good practice for everyone to know at least two ways out, in case your primary exit is blocked by fire.” During the drills, Fire Marshals, RHD’s and RA’s inspect the halls to make sure all of the students have evacuated. They use that opportunity to remind students where fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull stations and assembly areas are located.
The NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control annually inspects the university’s buildings and issues certificates of compliance, notices of violations and orders to comply based on what they find. “Through the combined efforts of many departments across campus we continue to be in compliance [with the policies], which is an excellent accomplishment,” said Gallo.
Fire Marshals, firefighters and students gather in the Academic Mall every September for National Campus Fire Safety Month. At the event, Fire Marshals supervise students as they put out simulation grease fires. The students are also taught the importance of Underwriters Laboratories stickers on hair dryers and other electronic devices. These stickers ensure that the devices were properly inspected. There have been cases of hair dryers igniting on fire because the appliances did not have UL stickers.
“The event did show me a glimpse of what happens when you use an uncertified blow dryer and how to use a fire extinguisher,” said George Wan, a resident student who attended the event.
“The Fire Marshals are constantly out in our campus community promoting fire safety by conducting classes on various topics such as cooking safety, candles, proper use of a fire extinguisher and other fire safety measures,” said Gallo. The students get the opportunity to sit in a parked trailer as it fills with smoke to demonstrate what they should do in the event of a fire. Volunteer firefighters inform the students not to stand up in a smoke filled room because the temperature can go up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. They emphasize the importance of safe cooking practices by telling students to never leave food that is cooking unattended.
In 2009, 26 states declared that September is National Campus Fire Safety Month. Ed Comeau who started the program in 2005 was the former chief fire investigator for the National Fire Protection Association and began publishing an electronic newsletter about fire safety called Campus Firewatch in 2000. His small newsletter started to evolve into something much larger when he developed the program.
The University Police Department is made aware of a potential fire when an individual calls 911 or through fire alarm or sprinkler activations that are received by the dispatchers. “When there is a report of a fire, university dispatchers send a pa- trol car and also notify the university Fire Marshals who also respond,” said Robert Lenahan, the chief of university police. The dispatchers then alert the local volunteer fire departments that initiate the proper response.
“Response times for both university Fire Marshals and university police averages around two minutes and that is a contributing factor in fires remaining minor in nature,” said Lenahan. The nine residence hall fires that occurred in 2009 were small and only caused minor property damage. The police officers and fire marshals were able to get to the scene in an average of two minutes and quell the fires before they got any larger.
“I am in contact with other fire safety professionals at other universities and we routinely discuss what we are doing on campus and what our best and most effective practices are,” said Gallo. Other SUNY schools are successful in educating students about fire safety and effectively prevent fires from happening. The 2009 Annual Security and Fire Report for Buffalo University says that they experienced five minor fires. The 2009 Campus Fire Safety Annual Compliance Report for Albany University states that they had 11 minor fires.
Massive fires are not a problem for Stony Brook University anymore, but at any time that could turn around. “The fire alarm systems are also being up- graded with state of the art fire detection, which leads to very quick notification of a fire or smoke condition,” said Gallo. The division of campus residences are going to put single-point detection features on all of the fire alarm systems this year. Those systems will allow UPD dispatchers to communicate with a single building or all of the buildings in the event of an emergency.
The university makes note of its success but does not stop improving itself and searching for new ways to prevent fires. “Stony Brook University takes fire safety very seriously and we work extremely hard at educating our students and preventing fires from occurring,” said Gallo.