From the Charleston, Ill., Fire Department:
|Shown, from left to right, are Illinois Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis; Steve Bennett, assistant fire chief, Charleston; Pat Goodwin, fire chief, Charleston; EIU President Bill Perry; and Gary Hanebrink, EIU safety officer. (Jay Grabiec photo)
Fire officials believe, without a doubt, that fire sprinklers installed in on-campus housing at Eastern Illinois University have saved lives.
In the Fall 2012 semester alone, two separate cooking-related fires were quickly extinguished in University Court when sprinklers were automatically activated. And multiple lives were likely saved when, in December 2008, unauthorized candles ignited some silk sheets students had hung on the walls and doors of a room in Greek Court. Several students were trapped until a sprinkler head activated.
“These sprinkler activations have saved lives and property,” said Steve Bennett, assistant fire chief for the city of Charleston. “But (Eastern Illinois University) did not just do the bare minimum of installing sprinkler systems; they upgraded the fire detectors and alarm systems and installed a campus-wide alert system.
"Eastern Illinois University has gone above and beyond what was required of them to do.”
Bennett was joined by several city and state officials, including Illinois Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis, Tuesday (Dec. 18) to publicly laud Eastern for its pro-active approach to fire safety. Matkaitis presented a proclamation, commending the university for its “commitment to life safety and preservation of property.”
In January 2005, the state of Illinois enacted the Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Act, requiring all on-campus housing at post-secondary institutions to have fire sprinklers installed by 2013. In January 2011, the state further enacted the Greek Housing Fire Safety Act, requiring all Greek housing to install fire sprinkler systems by 2019.
According to Bennett, EIU “has met these requirements prior to the mandated deadlines by having 100 percent of the 28 residential buildings on campus with fire sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems installed.”
Eastern began its efforts in 2000 with the installation of fire sprinklers in Pemberton Hall, the oldest woman’s residence hall in the state of Illinois. The first Greek housing was retrofitted with sprinklers in 2002.
“We wanted to begin with our wood-framed buildings -- those with the highest risk,” said Mark Hudson, Eastern’s director of Housing and Dining Services.
The university finished the project this past summer by making installations in Ford, McKinney and Weller halls. In total, Eastern spent more than $10.5 million dollars on the project.
“As assistant fire chief, I have had the pleasure of working side-by-side with the staff of Eastern to help ensure the safety of students, staff and the general public,” Bennett said. “Whether it was assisting with a pre-fire plan or collaborating on a side-by-side sprinkler demo at the tailgate of an EIU football game, Eastern has always put safety as a priority.
“These proactive efforts in fire safety have certainly made the job of the fire department a whole lot easier,” he added.
-- According to the National Fire Protection Agency, in 2011 there were more than 3,000 deaths, 17,000 injuries and more than $11 billion dollars in property damage due to fires in the United States.
-- Statistics from The Center for Campus Fire Safety show that, since the year 2000, 80 fatal fires have been documented that occurred on a college campus, in Greek housing or in off-campus housing within three miles of the campus – claiming a total of 116 victims across the nation.