Approved by Governor, Wyoming to Overhaul College Dorm Fire Systems

2004 dorm fire sparked legislation; fire sprinkler systems among first equipment to be installed


CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Fire sprinkler systems will be installed at all Wyoming college residence halls as a result of this year's legislative session.

Wyoming has joined a handful of states that are overhauling campus fire-safety systems.

A dormitory fire at Northwest College on March 30, 2004, was the impetus for the retrofit, authorized under the supplemental budget bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Dave Freudenthal.

No one was seriously hurt in the blaze at Bridger Hall, but the fire caused $5.8 million in damage and spurred state officials to take a closer look at the safety of college living quarters.

"The dorm fire at Powell was a wake-up call," State Fire Marshal Jim Narva said Monday in a release. "We were extremely fortunate that there were no injuries or deaths because of that fire. I am pleased to see that this budget request has been approved and we are eager to move forward with this project."

Less than 26 percent of dormitory space at Wyoming's community colleges and the University of Wyoming is protected by automatic sprinkler systems.

In his budget recommendation, Freudenthal asked for $5 million for new sprinklers at on-campus residence halls. The Legislature agreed to the full amount.

The figure includes slightly more than $2 million for UW and just under $3 million for the two-year colleges.

"This is a simple matter of safety," Freudenthal said. "With this project, students and their parents can rest a little easier knowing that they have an added layer of protection in case of fire. I am proud to be able to say that Wyoming is among those states leading the effort to make dorm rooms a little safer."

State fire officials expect all dorms to have sprinklers by this fall.

Wyoming joins New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois and Wisconsin in requiring sprinkler retrofitting at college residence halls, according to the state Department of Fire Prevention and Electrical Safety.

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are designed to keep fires small until fire crews arrive and provide time for occupants to evacuate.

In many cases, sprinkler systems have extinguished the fire, keeping damages and repair costs far below the cost of replacing the building, officials said.

Nationwide, much work remains to ensure better safety for college students, an advocacy group said.

"A vast majority of parents think the dorms (have fire sprinklers), and that is just not the case," said Ed Comeau, Director of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, based in Amherst, Mass.

Sprinklers are by far the best safety feature, but parents and students touring a school should ask other questions as well, he said.

"What fire prevention programs does the school have in place? Do they have smoke alarms and smoke detectors in individual rooms? Are they connected to the fire alarm system?" he said.

On Jan. 19, 2000, three students were killed and about 60 others injured in a fire at a Seton Hall University dormitory, which prompted New Jersey lawmakers to require sprinklers at all college dorms in that state.

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On the Net:

Center for Campus Fire Safety: http://www.campusfire.org/