Recent fraternity house fires at the University of Missouri in Columbia and Nebraska Wesleyan University emphasize the importance of fire safety on and around college campuses, and members of three AU fraternities said they realize the need for more fire awareness in their off-campus housing.
The University of Missouri fire occurred in a Pi Kappa Alpha house around campus on Nov. 29. Brian Schlitter, 25, died when flames trapped him in his upstairs bedroom. The fire’s cause is unknown, according to the Associated Press.
Several days before, a Nov. 11 fire killed one student and injured three at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Fraternity members told investigators that fireworks were set off in or around a house in Lincoln, Neb., according to the AP.
Investigators confiscated dozens of bottle rockets, 1.5-inch firecrackers and larger fireworks at the Phi Kappa Tau house at Nebraska Wesleyan University. However, Assistant Police Chief Jim Peschong said the fireworks most likely did not cause the fire, and it could take investigators weeks to make a conclusion, according to the AP.
Members of AU fraternities discussed ways they protect their homes and how they lessen the risk of starting a fire.
Anthony Fortunato, a Sigma Chi fraternity brother and senior in the School of International Service, lived in a house last year with six other brothers. The landlord realized the need for fire extinguishers and installed three after the brothers had already lived in the house for four to five months. There were smoke detectors, and the brothers prohibited smoking indoors, Fortunato said.
The brothers discussed fire safety in past chapter meetings and in risk management, Fortunato said.
“Candles for events and ceremonies are a good idea if fraternities discuss fire safety,” Fortunato said. “Thankfully, we haven’t had a fire yet.”
Like Sigma Chi, Pi Kappa Phi has not had any past fire incidents, said Jason Silverman, a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brother and a senior in the School of Public Affairs. Silverman’s and his three roommates’ house has smoke detectors and a no-smoking-indoors rule. The only open flames are small candles, Silverman said.
“Make sure you blow candles out [and] no cigarettes if you’re close to falling asleep,” he said.
Silverman said creating an escape plan would be beneficial, and the fraternity can reduce its risk by “making sure at every event we always have someone who’s responsible for risk management.”
Pete Marchant, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother and a senior in SPA, said in an e-mail he is aware of the same safety habits of the other two fraternities, adding his fraternity tries not to leave anything by heaters. Marchant lives with four other roommates and said Sigma Phi Epsilon has not had a fire incident at AU.
In the Nebraska Wesleyan University fraternity fire, Sara Olson, director of public relations for the university, said in an e-mail the investigation is still in process and they have found no cause of the fire. When the investigation is complete, the university will take appropriate actions that could range from a warning or probation to chapter suspension, she said.
“As far as fire safety, Nebraska Wesleyan University is taking aggressive measures and moving ahead with installation of sprinklers in approved university housing,” she said. “The installation of these sprinklers is now one of our top priorities.”
Many of the old facilities did not have sprinklers because it was not required by city code based on the age of buildings, Olson said.