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National News: Sprinklers Make Student Housing Safer

Missouri ordinance mandates sprinkler systems in fraternity and sorority houses

January 3, 2007 — The Columbia City Council of Columbia, Missouri, passed an ordinance requiring all fraternities and sororities to equip their houses with sprinkler systems by the end of 2012. This ordinance is part of a growing national trend aimed at preventing the potentially devastating effects of fires in off-campus student housing facilities.

Approximately a dozen cities across the country have adopted similar policies on fraternity and sorority fire safety, but the city of Austin does not currently mandate sprinkler systems in Greek housing. Even though Austin has yet to adopt a policy on fire safety in off-campus student housing, the recent events in Missouri illustrate how important these issues are in student residences.

In fact, the new Missouri ordinance came about in response to a 1999 fatal fraternity fire. To support the ordinance, Donna Passantino, mother of one of the 1999 fire victims, testified to the city council, saying, “As parents, we all need to make sure that our children are safe and protected, and this ordinance will help tremendously.”

“…we make sure all of our on-campus dormitories are equipped with sprinklers.”

Just one day before the ordinance passed, an 18-year-old Columbia resident learned a first-hand lesson about the “tremendous” value of sprinkler systems, when a sprinkler extinguished a fire in his apartment. The fire had begun while the young man was smoking on a futon, but he was reportedly intoxicated and unable to respond to the fire appropriately. Thanks to the sprinkler system, the building’s fire alarms activated to notify other residents, the fire was extinguished, and the young man eventually escaped with minimal injuries.

According to Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Sapp, “Had the fire sprinkler and fire alarm system not been in place, it is very probable that the occupant would have suffered extensive burn and smoke inhalation injuries, possibly death.”

University Fire Marshal Garland Waldrop says these events in Missouri illustrate why sprinkler systems are so important for safety efforts on The University of Texas at Austin campus. He notes, “This is why we support the use of sprinkler systems, and why we make sure all of our on-campus dormitories are equipped with sprinklers.”

Waldrop encourages students who live in off-campus housing to read fire safety awareness tips, and contact the Austin Fire Marshal’s Office to learn more about how to prevent fire in their residences. Students may also find information about installing sprinklers in their off-campus residences or fraternity/sorority houses by visiting the National Fire Sprinkler Association website.