Fire officials will inspect all private and public colleges in NYS

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Public and private colleges across Upstate New York will be inspected by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control. The annual inspection program was started after several students died in a fire at a college in New Jersey more than 15 years ago.

Guy Swartwout, Branch Chief of Inspections and Investigations with the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control, said, “We spend a lot of time on the college campuses, it can be a few days for some of the smaller privates, but when you get into the state system it can be a number of weeks per.”

He says colleges across New York are currently being inspected by his office. He talked about what officials will be looking for. Swartwout said, “Blocked exiting is major, the function of alarm systems is a big piece, unattended cooking, those kinds of things.”

That is just a small list of what’s being checked on every floor of every building on a campus – no matter how big, or small.

“Now the dormitories, we may not go to every room, it may be a representative sample, but if we start to find things that we identify as problems then we will expand that percentage.”

The process began after three students were killed, and dozens more were injured in a fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey back in 2000. After the fire, then New York Governor George Pataki had some questions. Swartwout talked about what questions were raised by Pataki, he said,”What are we doing to keep something like Seton Hall from happening in New York, and he got kinda of blank stares, and nobody really had an answers.”

A task force was created, and legislation was passed allowing thorough fire inspections across public and private colleges in New York State, for the exception of New York City.

Branch Chief Swartwout says education is a key piece. Medaille College and Niagara University have training coming up later in the month. Students and faculty will participate in fire safety awareness and prevention.

“We saw that people didn’t understand why that was important, why is it important that fire doors work, why is it important that sprinkler systems work, and those kind of things.”

Branch Chief Swartwout says you can take some simple measures to protect yourself. He says you should always know at least 2 ways out of a building or a room, make sure you have a working smoke alarm, and never leave food cooking unattended. Branch Chief Swartwout added, “The number one cause of fires is unattended cooking, with smoking coming close behind.”

For more fire safety information from the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, go to: http://www.dhses.ny.gov/ofpc/publications/index.cfm

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