On Monday, Jan. 30, Seton Hall students, administrators and alumni joined legislators on campus to introduce the Campus Fire Safety Education Act.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.-09), would create a new Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program and provide competitive funding with the intention of increasing fire safety awareness and training among college students across the United States.
Among those who spoke alongside Menendez and Pascrell in the Jubilee Atrium were Congressman Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.-10), SHU Vice President of Student Services Tracy Gottlieb, South Orange Acting Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan, and former students Alvaro Llanos and Dana Christmas-McCain. Llanos and Christmas-McCain are both survivors of the Boland Hall fire that killed three and injured dozens more on Jan. 19, 2000. Aaron Karol was one of the freshman hall residents that died that night. His parents, Joseph and Candice, also spoke at the press conference.
Everyone who stepped up to the mic referenced the fatal night. They also all spoke of how they hoped the Boland Hall tragedy would continue to inspire increased action and awareness in regards to fire safety.
“Not every fire that’s set is intentional – we may not be able to prevent every instance – however we can take steps to ensure that every member of a campus community understands not only how to first minimize the risk of fire, but also how to best act and respond if and when they do occur,” Menendez said. “With a little common sense and better fire safety education and awareness, we can make sure that no parent has to suffer the loss of a child like those who lost their children here.”
Gottlieb echoed those same sentiments, adding that she was “grateful” legislators were focusing on fire safety.
“We have lived through the worst and now we aspire to be the best,” she said. “We take fire safety very seriously here in South Orange.”
Since the Boland Hall fire, there have been 170 college or university-related fire fatalities around the country. That number has trended downward in recent years, however, according to Pascrell.
“We have seen college and university related fire fatalities decrease in recent years. This has come with education. It didn’t happen by miracle,” the representative said. “This is not Mickey Mouse stuff. This is serious business.”
The Campus Fire Safety Education Act aims to continue that education. The grant program “would allow institutions of higher education to receive funding to initiate, expand or improve a fire safety education program on their campus,” according to a press release. Schools can apply for such funding either on their own or in collaboration with nonprofit groups or public safety departments. Funding can include off-campus living arrangements, applicable to Greek life housing.
The bill has been endorsed by the National Association of State Fire Marshals, International Association of Fire Chiefs and National Fire Protection Association, among other organizations. Christmas-McCain, known as the Angel of Boland Hall for her efforts to save residents that night in January 2000, is another backer.
Proudly talking about the second and third degree burns the fire left her with, Christmas-McCain made an impassioned speech on behalf of the act.
“This bill will not only make an impact, but it will further aid in the proper planning and call to action and the prevention of another parent,” Christmas-McCain said, “receiving one of the most terrifying phone calls, terrifying news, regarding the injury, or worse, the loss of their beloved child due to a dormitory fire.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.