Benedict College received an education in fire safety and fire prevention Monday.
As reported by WIS TV, Benedict College President David Swinton pleaded no contest to charges of failing to maintain fire alarms in two of the college dormitories.
In March, the Columbia Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau issued charges after Benedict College could not produce records confirming that annual fire maintenance had been conducted on fire alarms and sprinkler systems inside two dormitories.
The school contracts TriTek, a private firm alarm company, to maintain and test the school’s fire and sprinkler systems.
Deputy Fire Marshall Kent Scott told a judge Monday that “the college completed the required maintenance after the tickets were issued” and that school officials have spent “millions of dollars in an effort to become complaint with the city’s fire codes”.
Inspection reports released to WIS TV in October 2009 revealed more than 500 fire code and fire safety violations at the college, including allegations that nearly every fire alarm and sprinkler system in Benedict’s dorms was not functioning properly.
Other deficiences noted included blocked, broken, and locked emergency exits which could have trapped innocent college students in the event of a fire.
Columbia Municipal Court Judge Dana Turner ordered Benedict President Swinton to pay $722.50 relating to the charges, but suspended the fines, leaving Swinton to pay $200 in Court costs. Benedict’s compliance records will not be known until October, when the City of Columbia Fire Department is set to complete a full annual inspection.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the estimated number of fires in campus housing has increased dramatically in recent years. NFPA cites the following startling statistics on dormitory fire-related civilian deaths and property damage:
• Between 2003-2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,570 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks. These fires caused an annual average of 7 civilian deaths, 54 civilian fire injuries, and $29.4 million in direct property damage.
• Between 2003-2006, cooking equipment was involved in 75% of the reported dormitory fires; this includes confined or contained fires.
• Structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks are more common during the evening hours between 5-11 p.m., as well as on weekends.
• Only 5% of fires in these properties began in the bedroom, but these fires accounted for 62% of the civilian deaths and one-quarter (26%) of the civilian injuries.
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