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Harsh Fire Measures Incite Student Umbrage

by: Frederick L. Antoine ‘14
PUBLISHED: 13 September 2011 2 Comments

Over the summer, the college implemened a new fire safety rule that prohibits all wall decorations within dorm spaces unless they are encased behind glass or Plexiglas. The new rule replaces an older one that allowed students to hang wall decorations in their dorms as long as the decorations covered less than ten-percent of the total wall space.

The College Safety Committee, a group comprised of several faculty members and administrators of the college, put forth the rule that has earned the title the “Plexiglas Rule” by many students. The CSC meets periodically to review safety issues on campus, and make recommendations for maintaining a safe environment. The CSC met during the summer, and decided to install the new fire safety rule because the committee concluded that the old ten-percent rule was being ignored by the student body.

The College Safety Committee was pressured by the Commonwealth of Virginia State Fire Marshal, which holds jurisdiction over all college dormitories in the state. During fire code inspections last year, the State Fire Marshal’s office—which conducts its own inspections on campus—found that a vast number of student dorms were in violation of state fire safety codes. Student dormitories are under stricter fire codes in comparison to other domiciles and office spaces across the state. Over 100 college students have died in fire-related incidents since 2000. Many of the fire codes created by the State Fire Marshal since then have been reactionary to the deaths that have occurred.

Fire safety rules on campus are enforced by the Fire Safety department which is administered by Chuck Ironmonger, the Fire Safety Chief. Mr. Ironmonger has been with the college for over 20 years and supports the Plexiglas Rule. “It’s a matter of life and death,” Ironmonger says. “I don’t like fining people for fire code violations, but most fire code violators receive a warning with sufficient time to correct the violation before any action is ever taken. There is no way to qualify when fire safety has been successful.” During Mr. Ironmonger’s time with the college he has experienced two fires in which tapestries and wall decorations came into direct contact with a standard 60-watt bulb. Mr. Ironmonger says he truly believes the new rule will improve safety, and he also points out that the new rule allows students to hang more decorations in their dorms since the ten-percent rule has been removed.

Needless to say, many students don’t share Mr. Ironmonger’s enthusiasm on the matter. Most students feel betrayed by the new fire safety rule as it prevents them from creating a space that feels like home in a room where they spend most of their time. Although the Plexiglas rule does not stop students from hanging wall decorations, many students do not want to pay more for framing a poster behind glass. Davonte Bradley ’14 believes the new rule is rather ridiculous. “I understand that they are trying to implement a preventive measure in case of a fire, but I don’t see the good in putting Plexiglas over a poster or flag when there are other things that could be changed,” Davonte claims. There are also members of the faculty and administration that disagree with the Plexiglas rule. No one would go on the record, but many faculty members believe that adding Plexiglas is just as dangerous as paper. Plexiglas releases toxic gases in a fire and is hazardous if shattered. Accidents may be prone to happen regardless of whatever safety regulations are imposed on students.

Before classes began, the Student Senate immediately responded to many complaints from students with disdain at the seemingly absurd Plexiglas Rule. In the next few days, the Senate will be meeting with Mr. Ironmonger and Wes Lawson, the Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life and Housing. The Senate hopes to work out a compromise that would not jeopardize lives while allowing students to create a comfortable living space.

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2 Comments »

  • A said:

    I am very curious about the rational of this considering students cannot put nails into walls as it is. To me it seems like a Fire Shield fiasco all over again.

  • old head said:

    Sucks for y’all. We were allowed to smoke in our dorms when I went to H-SC. And that was only 5 years ago.