Fire safety at 55 Ward

55 Ward Place got a free evaluation from the South Orange Fire Department on Tuesday afternoon with off-campus student safety in mind.

Chief Jeff Markey led a walkthrough of the residence, which lies across the street from the campus, along with house tenants James Ward and Nathan Wilson.

Ward, a sophomore majoring in political science, and Wilson, a recently-graduated nursing major, walked with Markey through nearly all corners of the house that will be occupied by seven individuals come the school year.

Markey said the house was a good fit for the walkthrough since it is “indicative” of similar locations serving as off-campus residences.

“We just want everyone to be safe,” Markey said. “It’s no different with (the students) than it is with you or me.”

On the house’s front deck, Markey pointed out cigar remains as potential hazards, citing the deck’s wood as being dry and old. The pattern for construction on the residence, he added, followed a model dated back to 1903.

The walkthrough continued through the house’s lower level rooms, which Ward confirmed was designed to have multiple guests visit. Markey offered tips when many people may be in the house at one time, notably for a special event or party.

“Designate a person to take out the trash or even to check under the (couch) cushions for cigarettes,” Markey said. “It’s like having a designated driver.”

More blatant problem spots in the lower level of the home included dangling wires in a closet and an electrical switch without a cover. Markey’s walkthrough enables the house’s residents and the leasing landlord to correct these issues without encountering citations.

“Parents need to be on board, too,” said South Orange Fire Department Captain Daniel Sullivan when asked about trouble spots in the house. “It involved the parents to the students to the Fire Department to housing.”

Other areas explained by Markey in the walkthrough included egress near exit doors (encouraged to be 36 inches), the danger of having interior doors with dead bolts, and even the practical use of fuse strips to avoid a circuit overload.

Ward said afterwards that the walkthrough presented issues not often thought of, from older wiring in the walls to the various safety measures suggested by Markey.

One such area involved the use of a fire extinguisher, with two located in plain sight in the residence. When asked about its use, Ward admitted he would probably just read the side of the extinguisher for directions.

“We don’t suggest you try to extinguish fires on your own,” Markey said. “We suggest you just get out of the house.”

Sullivan added that the South Orange Fire Department will take a look at all off-campus student residences in a similar fashion any time and day of the week.

He cited an example in a 2004 fire that “totaled” a house at 65 Ward Place when an electrical fault in the basement sent a blaze all the way to the top of the residence.

“But there were working smoke detectors (in the house), and luckily no injuries,” Sullivan said. “The New Jersey Uniform Fire Code has been the most rigid in the nation since 1981. Seton Hall couldn’t be more compliant.”

Brian Wisowaty can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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