Campus Fire Safety Advocates Seek Support

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Advocates for campus fire safety are carrying their message to lawmakers on Capitol Hill today.

The 33 people who turned out for the fourth annual Capitol Hill Day include college students, fire service officials and three who lost loved ones in campus housing fires, said Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch.

While visiting the offices of 60 legislators, the group will be asking for support for the Campus Fire Safety Education Act of 2011 that was introduced in both the House and Senate last week.

If approved, there would be $15M set aside for grants to colleges and universities for fire safety education.

"They would be matching grants up to $250,000 and the college would have to come up with 25 percent. That could be in the form of in-kind contributions," he explained.

In addition to the Campus Fire Safety Education Act, the teams will be discussing the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act which will reduce the amount of time required to depreciate the installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system, as an incentive for landlords to install systems in off-campus housing.

Comeau said statistics show a decline in campus housing deaths over the past few years. However, it's not time to sit and rest on laurels.

So far this collegiate year, three people have died, compared to five last year. Comeau said there were 18 deaths in 2007-08.

Campus fire safety advocates worked for many years before obtaining the Higher Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.

It requires colleges to report fire safety information annually to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, officials are required to include in the report such things as fire safety systems in student housing, number of fire drills, plans for improvements and education programs.

To provide guidance on reporting, the U.S. Department of Education has recently published The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.

Comeau said he is pleased to see a positive trend emerging, and believes officials are taking fire safety seriously. "There seems to be more awareness," he said.

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