Measures taken to prevent future dorm fires

A walk through campus in the late afternoon reveals a common sight in some windows of the residence halls – lighted decorations.

Taking that same walk between 12 and 2 a.m., however, all that remains are dark windows with occasional light spots.

Freshman Danielle Kaschub, whose ceiling is clustered with rope lights, said she never leaves them on overnight. After the March 4 fire in Bridgman Hall, she now realizes how small hazards can become dangerous realities.

“There’s a lot of people that have (Christmas lights) and probably take no precautions,” Kaschub said. “It makes you realize it can happen to anyone, anytime.”

While fires are not entirely preventable, the residence halls meet their building codes and create policies for residents to ensure adequate fire protection, said Jan Harter, an Eau Claire fire inspector.

Some of the code requirements include having fire extinguishers on each floor, fire alarms near the exits and smoke detectors in each room, she said. One fire drill a year is also a requirement for each hall, she said.

Each hall also has a dry sand pipe, which allows the fire department to attach its pump trucks into the ground-level pipe and supply water to the fire hoses in the hall, said Terry Classen, director of Facilities Planning and Management.

Also, every hall is made out of brick or concrete cinder blocks, making them noncombustible.

After the construction of a residence hall, it is then required to follow the building code for that year, which includes fire safety. When the building code changes, the residence halls do not follow the new code.

“You can’t force a 1960s building to suddenly be 2005 compliant,” Harter said. “You can’t force today’s current standards on that building. You have to go with what’s there.”

The only exceptions to that rule, Classen said, are Towers and Chancellors halls, which are protected under the Wisconsin Enrolled Codes. These codes make sure both halls stay up to current building standards, which is why Towers North has a sprinkler system, he said.

The state gave UW-Eau Claire until 2006 to have sprinkler systems in Towers North and South, an update that cost nearly $2 million, he said. Towers South will have the system fully installed in summer.

Housing also established rules to help prevent fires in the halls. Open flames of any kind, including candles, halogen lamps and incense are not allowed, according to Housing’s safety policy.

Junior Steve Davis, a Bridgman Hall RA, said open coiled objects like toasters also aren’t allowed. If a resident possesses anything restricted in Housing’s policy, they are written up for it and asked to remove the item from their room, he said.

“The residents sign the J-code that says they are not supposed to have these things,” Davis said. “I haven’t run across anything specifically that would cause a fire.”

In the event of a fire, freshman David Allen said he understands all the procedures of leaving the hall safely as well as the location of fire-fighting equipment on his floor.

For the time being, United Hall Council President Chris Wagner said the council will not take immediate action into changing any policies until they look further into the issue of fire safety.

“I’d rather wait and see to find out more information,” he said. “We don’t want to just take (lighted decorations) away.”