Resident halls without fire sprinklers leave students feeling unsafe

When Marie Shimizu first found out her residence hall doesn’t have fire sprinklers installed, she said she felt shocked and angry.

“I remember I was upset over that fact all night,” she said.

Shimizu transferred to the University of Oregon this fall to pursue a major in international studies. She lives in a double bedroom in Hamilton Hall, paying more than $3,800 per quarter, Shimizu said.

“It’s outrageous because of how much I had to pay, and the building is not even safe,” Shimizu said.

Three out of nine residence halls on campus, including Walton Hall, Hamilton Hall and Bean Hall, do not have an interior fire sprinkler system installed. These are the oldest residence halls on campus – they were built between 1950 and 1963 and have not been remodeled since.

Though Shizumi is concerned, University fire Marshal Josep Pedrola said it’s not a major concern.

Buildings on campus must comply to follow the Oregon Fire Code, which currently requires fire sprinkler systems in public buildings to provide a reasonable level of safety and property protection, Pedrola said. However, the university is not violating any fire code because the three residence halls met all fire codes at the time of construction, he said.

“The university has been very proactive; [it] recognized the needs, which is the first step,” Pedrola said. “Since I came on board, whenever we implemented programs that we felt we needed, we always had the support from the university.”

“Education is a good way to approach the problem. Sometimes, the behavior changes can help a lot in preventing a fire from happening in the first place.” – UO Fire Marshal Josep Pedrola
However, the lack of fire sprinklers was not discussed with residents, Bean Hall resident Tyler Manning said. He said the university should have disclosed the information with residents, but he found out through a conversation with a friend.

“I found out when a kid in my floor casually mentioned it once,” Manning said. “Since then, the topic keeps coming up now and then.”

Former Bean Hall resident assistant and ASUO Senate President Max Burns said he didn’t recall the university discussing the matter with the residents. Burns said he told his residents anyway.

“We take fire safety very seriously,” Burns said. “I think the policies are strict and reasonable enough to benefit the safety of everyone.”

ASUO Senate Andrew Dunn, who has been vocally fighting against the living-on campus requirement with Burns, said several resident assistants in Bean Hall have been strongly advocating to improve the fire safety in the hall.

Pedrola said the university welcomes questions from students about the fire code.

“Education is a good way to approach the problem,” Pedrola said. “[…] Sometimes,  the behavior changes can help a lot in preventing fire from happening in the first place.”

Since its creation in June 2014, the Safety & Risk Services program has worked closely with UO Housing to train students and resident assistants in case of a fire hazard. The fire marshal has also increased the frequency of inspection at residence halls. They have also worked with the university’s campus planning as well as design and construction departments to ensure all the fire code requirements are in place from the beginning, Pedrola said.

The renovation for Bean Hall is scheduled to start right after the opening of the new 500-bedroom residence hall in Fall 2017. UO Housing said that it plans to eventually renovate every old residence halls. Pedrola said the newly renovated buildings will install up-to-date fire sprinkler systems; but until then, not much will change.

In the meantime, Shimizu, since finding out about lack of fire sprinklers in her residence hall, has moved out to an off-campus apartment despite the higher price tag.

“It’s more expensive and far less convenient to live off-campus, but I don’t want to put a price tag on my safety,” Shimizu said.

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Tran Nguyen

Tran Nguyen

Crime and Court senior reporter, specializing in sorting through non-interactive spreadsheet. Formerly reporting on ASUO, Housing and Construction.

Send tips to [email protected] Follow me on Twitter @tranngngn. K thanks bye.