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Fraternity Fire Continues to Spark Greek Houses to Install Sprinklers

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — June 20, 1999

UNC Chapel Hill

is trying to make big strides in fire safety following a fatal fraternity fire three years ago.

A record number of Greek houses achieved perfect fire code inspections last spring. Plus, 37 fraternities and sororities are in the process of installing sprinkler systems.

The members of Sigma Nu do not like the way sprinkler system installers have disrupted their sleepy summer semester.

"Personally, I'd rather not have it done right now because I happen to be living here," one fraternity member said.

However, the members know that the unsightly sprinklers may be their only line of defense in the cramped fraternity house, except for one fire extinguisher.

UNC fraternities and sororities, including Sigma Nu, are installing the sprinkler systems because a fire at Phi Gamma Delta killed five students.

Chapel Hill now has a law requiring all Greek houses to have sprinkler systems by 2001. The school would like to have them in place sooner, but it takes awhile to get systems designed, approved and paid for -- plus the installation can only be done during the summer.

"That way you don't really have any problems with people being in the way, or being in their way," said Jon Wiley, a sprinkler system installer.

Cheryl Sunderhaus' sorority was one of the first Greek houses to get a sprinkler system just after the Phi Gamma Delta fire.

"It was nice to know that there would be safety because it was an issue, because one of our sisters was in the [Phi Gamma Delta] house," she said.

UNC is pleased with the progress in getting the systems installed, but it is worried about complacency among students. There are few reminders of the Phi Gamma Delta fire left, now that the fraternity will have a new house in the same location this fall.

Installing the sprinkler systems does not come cheap. The systems range in price from $40,000 to $100,000, and the Greek houses must foot the bills.


Len Besthoff


Terry Cantrell