Payne, Menendez, Pascrell & Fire Safety Advocates Announce Bill Protecting College Students

Jan 30, 2017 Issues: Local Issues

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Seventeen years after a deadly fire, U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Representative Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), and fire safety advocates announced a new introduction of the Campus Fire Safety Education Act, which would create a new competitive Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program at institutions of higher education. The program is aimed at increasing fire safety awareness among college students, helping to improve their fire training, and to save lives.

This bill was first introduced in response to a deadly fire at Seton Hall University on January 19, 2000 that erupted on the third-floor of a six-story freshmen dormitory, Boland Hall. Three students died as a result of the fire.

“More needs to be done to increase campus fire safety awareness across the nation,” said Congressman Payne, Jr. “There must be a focus on educating students living both on and off-campus, where most fatal fires occur. The safety of students depends on it. This bill recognizes that increased fire safety awareness will save lives, and I’m proud to support it.”

"When we send our kids off to college, we're thinking about textbooks and beanbags. Fire safety isn't the first thing we discuss and plan for when we send our kids off to school, but simple measures could save their lives and the lives of their classmates," said Rep. Pascrell. "This bill protects kids and arms them with powerful information at a time when they are starting to become independent men and women. From now on, Fire Safety 101 should be a requirement, not an elective."

"The tragic Seton Hall dorm fire in Boland Hall that claimed the lives of three young students and injured dozens more was a preventable disaster triggered by a senseless and reckless act," said Sen. Menendez. "The Campus Fire Safety Education Act is about preventing campus fires, giving students and faculty the knowledge and tools they need to quickly and adequately respond in an emergency any time of the day or night, and ease the minds of parents who want to be certain that their children are as safe and secure on campus as they are in their own home."

Joining the legislators for the re-introduction ceremony were Seton Hall fire survivors like Rev. Dana L. Christmas-McCain, who was a senior and a 21-year-old resident assistant at Seton Hall University's Boland Hall where the fire occurred. She is widely known as "the Angel of Boland Hall" because she saved many students’ lives by alerting them of the fire even as she herself was burning, suffering severe injuries. Over 60 percent of Dana's body sustained burns; she was one of 58 students injured in the fire.

Also on-hand was Alvaro Llanos, who with his former roommate Shawn Simons, both sustaining severe burns and have since travelled the nation as advocates for campus fire safety initiatives. Alvaro suffered third degree burns from his head to his torso – burning 56 percent of his body. Shawn suffered third degree burns as his palms, first and second degree burns to his head and face – burning 16 percent of his body.

Fires both on and off campuses have become all too common tragedies in this country. Since January 2000, there have been 170 college or university-related fire fatalities. Sprinkler systems and other life saving devices can only do so much to protect our young people. Colleges and universities need the resources to educate their students about the importance of fire safety and help ensure fire-safe behavior during their time in college and beyond.

"College is a time of 'firsts' - first time away from home, first time living in a residence hall, first time living off-campus," said Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch.  "It may also be the first time that students are personally responsible for their own fire safety. The Campus Fire Safety Education Act will help provide the resources for students to be taught skills that can help them both prevent a fire and what to do if one does occur, not only while they are in college, but for the rest of their lives."

"Seton Hall has been a leader in the effort to promote fire safety on college campuses for nearly two decades. Just this month, we marked the 17th anniversary of the Boland Hall residence fire that claimed the lives of three of our students. We welcome this legislation, which serves as a strong support for the educational programming that can make a life-or-death difference to all our college students," said Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D., vice president of student services at Seton Hall University.

The bill creates a new competitive Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program at institutions of higher education, aimed at increasing fire safety awareness among college students and helping to improve their fire training. Details:

The Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program would allow institutions of higher education to receive funding to initiate, expand, or improve a fire safety education program on their campus. Schools can apply on their own or in collaboration with a nonprofit fire safety organization or public safety department, and may include a fraternity and sorority. Because a high proportion of student fires occur off-campus, schools will be encouraged to use these funds to educate students living both on and off-campus.

The Campus Fire Safety Act is endorsed by a number of fire safety and campus organizations, including the National Association of State Fire Marshals, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Campus Firewatch, National Fire Protection Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association, Congressional Fire Services Institute, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Center for Campus Fire Safety.

In the wake of Seton Hall University's tragic fire in 2000, which killed 3 students and injured over 50 others, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. introduced the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act. This bill requires colleges and universities to provide prospective and current students with fire safety information on campuses. The Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act became law in 2008 as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

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