bill to help universities install fire sprinklers

By Gus Bode

SIUC should receive grant, upgrade old fire systems Sprinklers_10-03_LJM

The state may not have money to burn, but it’s more than willing to shell out extra money to prevent the University’s buildings from going up in flames.

A bill proposed in Springfield could give SIUC a grant to upgrade its older fire systems and install sprinklers where they are needed.

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Rep. John Shimkus, D-Ill., co-sponsor of the bill, said the five-year matching grant program would help put fire sprinklers in dormitories and greek houses that were built before sprinklers were required. Priority is given to institutions that are unable to fund placing sprinklers on their own.

Ed Jones, director of University Housing, said SIUC should qualify for the grant.

“With the way the state budgets or even the national budgets are, the only thing you hear are bad things about budgets, so I’m thinking everybody’s going to be in need,” Jones said.

Shimkus said grant money could be used for similar fire systems. This would help prevent potential injuries, and death during a fire would also be covered.

“The debate is the old buildings,” Shimkus said. “It’s very costly to put in sprinklers so we’ll help there, but it’s less costly to just hang up fire extinguishers.

“I would hope that the University would have the best quality safety equipment that they can in essence afford. And if the water-base is not necessarily helpful in electrical fires, I would think there would be a need to look at somehow doing it as quickly as possible having ABC type.”

Last year the Daily Egyptian pointed out that dormitories in Thompson Point had only Class A fire extinguishers. Class A extinguishers contain water and are approved for use on small paper or wood fires. If a Class A extinguisher is used on an electrical fire, the person holding the device could be electrocuted.

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Some floors in Brush Towers had both Class A extinguishers and multi-purpose extinguishers. However, the multi-purpose devices were behind breakable glass, whereas the water-based devices were out in the open.

Jones said the University has replaced extinguishers that needed to change.

“If we look at the kind of fires that you might have, you would want to have fire extinguishers that meet that demand,” Jones said. “Students’ first responsibility is to leave the building. It is the fire department’s job to fight fires.”

Shimkus said in the past, federal and state government passed legislation that made exceptions to some of the safety requirements that were mandatory for the public. Because of government funding, schools were also sheltered from public safety requirements. Now only 35 percent of dorms have sprinklers or other fire control devices.

Shimkus said the grants should give universities the incentive to make fire safety modifications to buildings, but individual universities are responsible for placing multi-purpose fire extinguishers in student housing.

“I do believe that you should have the best equipment to provide safety for the students and if that’s ABC, then that’s ABC,” Shimkus said. “That’s something you would not want to see anywhere, especially when people are in institutions to improve themselves and get into society and be a positive influence in society.”

Reporter Lindsey J. Mastis can be reached at [email protected]

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