Illinois enacts new law on dorm sprinklers

All public and private colleges and universities must install sprinklers by September 2014
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Monday, September 24, 2012

ORLAND PARK, Ill.—Parents of college students should be able to rest easier as the result of a new law requiring fire sprinklers in on-campus dormitories at public and private colleges and universities in Illinois by September 2014, according to the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board.

“The last thing on students’ minds is what to do if there’s a fire,” Tom Lia, executive director of the advisory board, which advocated for the new law, told Security Systems News.

He said students often aren’t aware where all their dorm’s exits are. “Our goal was to make sure they were fire sprinkler-protected away from their homes,” he said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation on Aug. 6. The advisory board, which is based here, said the new law mandates that colleges and universities “must file a compliance plan with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, which details their time line for completion of the fire sprinkler installations. All dormitories must be retrofit with operational fire sprinklers by Sept. 1, 2014. Institutions that violate the requirements will be fined up to $1,000 per day.”

According to the latest figures from the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments across the nation responded to more than 3,800 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks from 2005 to 2009. “These fires caused an annual average of three civilian deaths, 38 civilian fire injuries, and $20.9 million in direct property damage,” the NFPA said. It said cooking equipment was involved in 81 percent of the fires.

Lia said state’s “entire fire service” supported the bill, but some small colleges wanted to put off the sprinkler requirement because of cost. He said lawmakers gave the institutions a couple of years to comply but also instituted a “severe fine” for every day they don’t.

“It gave the local authorities some way to enforce it,” Lia said.

He praised Quinn as “a great fire safety advocate.” He said the governor also has given state Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis “complete backing” on a new residential fire sprinkler initiative on which SSN has previously reported. The initiative involves updating state standards so that residential fire sprinklers would be required in municipalities and fire districts statewide.

The National Fire Sprinkler Association, based in Patterson, N.Y., also said in a statement that it “applauds Gov. Quinn for signing this historic bill to keep college students safe when away from their homes. We hope to soon see similar initiatives across the U.S.”