LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Legislation Could Improve Campus Fire Safety Education

By Briana Vannozzi
Correspondent

“We bear these scars with the memory of that frightful morning etched into our skin, but grateful to God that our pain and suffering was not in vain,” said Dana Christmas-McCain.

Christmas-McCain says she wears her scars unapologetically. The survivor of Seton Hall‘s deadly dorm fire 17 years ago suffered second and third degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Today she helped federal lawmakers usher in new fire safety legislation to prevent it from happening again.

“Our legislation creates a new $15 million annual, competitive grant program that would authorize direct funding to colleges and universities to implement, expand or improve fire safety education for the campus community,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

The Boland Hall fire killed three students and injured 58 more, including first responders. In the years since, it spurred statewide mandates like sprinklers in every campus residence hall, routine fire drills and safety inspections. The new Campus Fire Safety Education Act will allow higher ed institutions to go further. They’ll apply for the money on their own or in collaboration with nonprofits. Funding will be doled out based on how well criteria are met.

“Because of the fire, Aaron, Frank and John became statistics instead of an FBI profiler, a teacher and a career in medicine. Please let us save lives with fire safety education,” said Candy Karol.

Candy and Joe Karol lost their son Aaron in the fire. Plaques around campus bear his name. And every 15 minutes a bell tolls to remember the lives lost.

“I’ve seen where some 170 students have perished in fires throughout the country either on or off campus since the Seton Hall fire in the last 17 years. That is unacceptable,” Joe Karol said.

A high number of student fires occur off school grounds. So, colleges are being encouraged to use the funding to educate students living both on and off campus.

Alvaro Llanos nearly lost his life from the burns. He says expanding education is a small price to pay.

“For us, we feel like if we were educated that night of Jan. 19, 2000, we would have been able to have an exit strategy that night, be aware of where our nearest exits were or figure out a different way to protect ourselves from getting hurt in that fire,” Llanos said.

“So our job, in the Congress of the United States, with this particular issue — it’s close to our hearts — is to protects our sons, our daughters, our grand-kids,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.

So that history isn’t repeated.