After Tragedy, Houses Reconsider Fire Safety

Even after a fire killed three students and destroyed a
fraternity house at the University of Mississippi, a change in fire
safety standards at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln still seems
unlikely.

According to Rick Campos, a fire inspector for the City of
Lincoln, all greek residences at UNL are required to have an
inspection at least once every year and must adhere to both state
and city fire codes.

He said a typical inspection includes testing fire alarms and
checking for blocked exits. Candles and extension cords are
strictly prohibited, and fire inspectors have the option of issuing
fines and even revoking building licenses if they find enough
violations, Campos said.

Yet, on any given day observations reveal some greek houses are
full of these safety hazards. Extension cords are draped along
walls and fire exits frequently are blocked.

However, fines tend to be rare. Jeff Heinrich, president of
Farmhouse fraternity, said he was aware of only one fine ever being
issued to a member of his fraternity.

Campos acknowledged the root of this problem probably lies in
the advanced notice he must give greek residences in order to
complete his inspections.

“I have to set a schedule to actually get in the
building,” he said. “Most of them are locked, and, in
the case of sororities, I need an escort to take me around the
house.”

In the event violations are discovered, the residence is given
until the next inspection to remedy them. If violations continue at
the next inspection, a one-week grace period is given before the
organization is fined.

Both Campos and Heinrich agreed more unannounced inspections
would improve fire safety, but Campos said sprinkler systems were
the best emergency prevention devices.

“In terms of averting disasters, sprinklers are heads and
shoulders above anything else,” he said. “Three houses
were working to install sprinklers this summer.”

Linda Schwartzkopf, director of UNL Greek Affairs, said no
immediate changes have been proposed in response to the fire, but
said “on a national level, greek organizations are concerned
about safety and many are considering sprinkler systems.”

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