Congress expected to pass Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act this fall

Thursday, August 9, 2007

BELCHERTOWN, Mass.--The Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act, a bill designed to help parents and prospective college students evaluate the level of fire safety at college campuses, got one step closer to becoming law on July 24 when it passed the U.S. Senate.
The House of Representatives will take up the bill when it reconvenes in September.
One of the main advocates behind the bill is Ed Comeau, who lives here, a former Chief Fire Investigator for the National Fire Protection Association, founder and past director of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, and current publisher of a newsletter called Campus Firewatch.
"The bill calls upon the schools to report statistics to the [U.S] Department of Education including how many rooms are protected by fire sprinklers and smoke detectors, what kind of fire prevention training is given to staff and students and how many fire fatalities the school has had," Comeau said.
"Schools have this information; we are not asking them to do anything extra. We're asking them to report the information, so parents can incorporate this information" as they help their children choose colleges.
Comeau works with a group of parents who have lost children in campus fires. When these parents looked at colleges with their kids, fire safety "just wasn't on their radar," Comeau said. In addition to making it easier for parents to obtain this information, the bill would "serve as an incentive for schools to install more sprinklers and smoke detectors and be a chance for schools who do make an effort to protect students and take fire safety seriously, to shine."
The bill has been in play for several years, having been first introduced in February 2000, following a fire at Seton Hall University (N.J.) that killed three students. Last year, the bill passed the House, but not the Senate.
The July 24 passage in the Senate (as part of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act) bodes well for victory in the House, as does the fact that the Democratic Party is in the majority in that chamber this year, Comeau said. In addition, the bill has 64 co-sponsors representing both parties.
The past year was the deadliest since 2000 for campus fire fatalities with 20, Comeau said. In an average year, there are 14 campus fire fatalities nationwide.
Comeau's Web site has information about where all members of the House of Representatives stand on this issue and has links for constituents to contact representatives to ask for their support.