Local News

NJ Dorm Fire a Frightening Reminder to NC Students

Posted January 20, 2000

— A dorm fire Wednesday at Seton Hall University that killed three students has brought back chilling memories for people around here.

The dorm at Seton Hall did not have sprinklers. Neither didUNC-Chapel Hill's Phi Gamma Delta house back in 1996, when five people died in an early morning fire on graduation day.

Chapel Hill now has a law requiring all Greek Houses to have sprinkler systems by next year. Leaders at UNC and other Triangle universities have taken steps to make things safer, but they also expect students to do their part.

Crowded dorm rooms are common on any college campus, as are smoke detectors and fire alarms. But when the alarm goes off, not all students take it seriously.

"Safety first, but if you're woken up in the middle of the night, you're not really thinking about that. You're thinking about more sleep. It's easy to stay in bed. It's real easy to stay in bed," saysN.C. Statefreshman Nick Potisek.

That tendency is a growing concern at area colleges and universities because while most alarms turn out to be false, recent fires at UNC-Chapel Hill andShaw Universitywere the real thing.

Housing officials at N.C. State say the fire at Seton Hall should be a wake-up call.

"There were students that lost their lives, and there were also students that left the building in their pajamas, but I think they're grateful for that because they actually heeded the alarm," says university housing coordinator Justine Hollingshead.

Fire protection officers conduct fire drills at N.C. State twice a semester. They also conduct inspections to check for safety hazards in rooms, like overloaded sockets, burning candles left unattended, and halogen lamps.

About half the students at N.C. State live in dorms that are equipped with sprinkler systems. The university hopes to have sprinklers in all dorm rooms in five to seven years.

Suspicious activity caused about 29 percent of the fires. Fifteen percent were started by careless cooking. Smoking was blamed on 10 percent of the fires.

Other causes include heating fixtures, electrical cords, appliances and open flames.


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