Sprinklers Help Save Lives-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sprinklers Help Save Lives

Well, another summer has come and gone, along  with another year of testing the 426 wet sprinkler lines in university buildings.  Many of the university buildings have sprinkler suppression systems installed. Some buildings have partial sprinkler coverage, while others are fully sprinkler protected. All residence housing buildings are fully sprinklered. This did not just happen by chance; there was an incident in a college residence hall in the year 2000 that provided the impetus to take on this ambitious initiative.

It was 4:30 am on Wednesday, January 19th at Seton Hall University, located in South Orange, N.J. The campus was still abuzz from the basketball team’s big win vs. St. John’s less than 10 hours earlier. A fire was deliberately set in the third floor lounge of Borland Hall, a six story unsprinklered residence hall housing 600 freshmen.

Borland Hall RA Dana Christmas was sleeping when she was awakened by the sound of the building’s fire alarm system, again. When the fire alarm first sounded many of the students rolled over and went back to sleep, trying to block out what they considered to be the most recent in a string of numerous false alarms. RA’s are a part of the first line of defense against fires, so RA Dana Christmas got out of bed to investigate, and to her surprise this time it was an actual fire!

This arson fire took the lives of 3 students, injured 62 others, including 2 firefighters and 2 police officers. Four students suffered injuries that were serious enough to require surgery and rehabilitation. Dana Christmas survived with burns over 60% of her body.
Shortly after this fire, then N.J. Governor Christie Whitman proposed legislation to enact the first mandatory residence hall sprinkler law in the nation

By: Rick Caruso, rmcaruso@andrew.cmu.edu, 412-268-9404