NEWARK, N.J. – Twenty years after the deadly Seton Hall University dorm fire killed three freshman and injured dozens more, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) today announced introduction of bicameral legislation to improve fire safety on college campuses.
“Twenty year ago, students living at Boland Hall to unspeakable horror and tragedy as the building around them burned. They fled for their lives. Dozens were hurt. Several suffered severe burns and a lifetime of pain. But freshmen Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota and John Giunta couldn’t make it out and their young lives were taken far too soon. I have never forgotten their loss nor the toll it’s taken on their families and the entire Seton Hall community. That’s why I’m fighting to improve campus safety and prevent such tragedies,” said Sen. Menendez. “This bill is about averting fires and giving students and faculty the tools they need to quickly and safely respond to an emergency. While my thoughts this anniversary are with the survivors and families, it’s time we pass this commonsense bill and further ensure the safety of all students living both on and off college campuses nationwide.”
“I will never forget the tragic fire at Seton Hall. I will always remember how our community came together after the fire to honor the lives lost and demand change,” said Rep. Pascrell, who as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus has led the charge in Congress for stronger fire safety measures on college campuses. “I vowed on that day to do everything possible to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. With passage of my High Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act and legislation establishing the Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program, I’m proud that we have kept that vow to the students, educators, and staffs of colleges nationwide. The passage of our new Campus Fire Safety legislation will continue this important work. God bless the survivors and their families.”
In the early morning hours of January 19, 2000, two students set fire to a third-floor common area of Boland Hall, a six-story freshman dormitory on Seton Hall’s South Orange, N.J., campus that quickly engulfed the building. Three students died in the blaze; 58 others suffered burns and other injuries. Since the Seton Hall tragedy, there have been 170 college or university-related fire fatalities.
The Campus Fire Safety Education Act of 2020 would create a new competitive Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program for institutions of higher education to increase fire safety awareness among college students and the campus community, help improve their fire training, and save lives. 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.
Schools can apply on their own or in collaboration with a nonprofit fire safety organization or public safety department, including fraternities and sororities. Because a high proportion of student fires occur off-campus, schools will be encouraged to use these funds to educate students living both on and off-campus.
The Campus Fire Safety Education Act is endorsed by fire safety and campus organizations, including the National Association of State Fire Marshals, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Campus Firewatch, National Fire Protection Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association, Congressional Fire Services Institute, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Center for Campus Fire Safety. It is additionally endorsed by the National Education Association, the National Panhellenic Council, and the North American Interfraternity Conference.
“The National Association of State Fire Marshals strongly supports the reintroduction of The Campus Fire Safety Education Act of 2019,” said NASFM Executive Director Jim Narva. “It’s important we protect, educate and train our students attending institutions of higher education about the often catastrophic fires which occur on and off campus. The enactment of this Fire Prevention and Safety legislation will save countless lives.”
“CCFS recognizes the many challenges colleges have protecting students, faculty, staff and visitors at campuses that are essentially self-contained cities,” said Justin Daniels, President, Center for Campus Fire Safety. “The grant program proposed in this important legislation will help students develop safety habits that will protect them throughout their lives.”
“Education includes knowing how to live safely, whether it is in a residence hall or off-campus," said Ed Comeau from Campus Firewatch. "Fire safety is something that students need to know not only while they are in school, but for the rest of their lives, and this legislation will play a key part in keeping our children safe.”
“Fires in dormitories and other off-campus housing occurs with an alarming frequency,” Gary Ludwig, President, International Association of Fire Chiefs said. “The IAFC is pleased to support the Campus Fire Safety Education Act of 2019 which would create a federal funding opportunity to provide critical fire safety education to students who are living on their own for the first time. The IAFC urges Congress to pass this legislation and help save students from future fires.”