Pascrell, Payne Mark Anniversary of Tragic Seton Hall Dorm Fire
With Menendez, introduce Campus Fire Safety Education Act
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ-10) today visited Seton Hall University to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the fire at Boland Hall on January 19, 2000. Speaking besides fire survivors Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, South Orange Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan, New Jersey State Fire Marshall Rich Mikutsky, New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association President Ed Donnelly, and students and administrators at Bethany Hall, Reps. Pascrell and Payne commemorated the lives lost and introduced their legislation, the Campus Fire Safety Education Act.
“I will never forget the tragic fire at Seton Hall. I will always remember how our community came together after the fire to honor the lives lost and demand change,” said Rep. Pascrell, who as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus has led the charge in Washington for stronger fire safety measures on college campuses. “I vowed on that day to do everything possible to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. With passage of the High Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act and legislation establishing the Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program, I’m proud that we have kept that vow to the students, educators, and staffs of colleges nationwide. The passage of our new Campus Fire Safety legislation will continue this important work. God bless the survivors and their families.”
“My thoughts and prayers are still with the families who lost loved ones in the Boland Hall fire at Seton Hall University,” said Rep. Payne. “Since that day, I have worked with my New Jersey colleagues to increase fire safety and protect students. I am proud of the Campus Fire Safety Act I cosponsored with Congressman Pascrell and the similar bill Senator Menendez sponsored in the Senate to improve fire safety education and awareness at colleges and universities across the country. We need to make sure we are prepared if a fire like the one in Boland Hall happens again.”
“Twenty year ago, students living at Boland Hall awoke to unspeakable horror and tragedy as the building around them burned. They fled for their lives. Dozens were hurt. Several suffered severe burns and a lifetime of pain. But freshmen Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota and John Giunta couldn’t make it out and their young lives were taken far too soon. I have never forgotten their loss, nor the toll it’s taken on their families and the entire Seton Hall community. That’s why I’m fighting to improve campus safety and prevent such tragedies,” said Sen. Menendez. “This bill is about averting fires and giving students and faculty the tools they need to quickly and safely respond to an emergency. While my thoughts this anniversary are with the survivors and families, it’s time we pass this commonsense bill and further ensure the safety of all students living both on and off college campuses nationwide.”
“As we reflect on the tragic events of January 19, 2000, we are bound together as a community of faith in remembrance of Aaron, Frank and John and how we have been greatly impacted by the Boland Hall fire. We commend our Congressional representatives for advocating for this campus fire safety legislation that could help protect the lives of college students throughout the nation,” said Seton Hall University President Joseph E. Nyre, Ph.D.
“The National Association of State Fire Marshals strongly supports the reintroduction of The Campus Fire Safety Education Act of 2019,” said NASFM Executive Director Jim Narva. “It’s important we protect, educate and train our students attending institutions of higher education about the often catastrophic fires which occur on and off campus. The enactment of this Fire Prevention and Safety legislation will save countless lives.”
Justin Daniels, President, Center for Campus Fire Safety: “CCFS recognizes the many challenges colleges have protecting students, faculty, staff and visitors at campuses that are essentially self-contained cities. We applaud Rep. Pascrell for recognizing that fire safety education is critical to reduce the property damage, injuries and even death that can result from incidents on and off campus. The grant program proposed in this important legislation will help students develop safety habits that will protect them throughout their lives.”
“Education includes knowing how to live safely, whether it is in a residence hall or off-campus,” said Ed Comeau from Campus Firewatch. “Fire safety is something that students need to know not only while they are in school, but for the rest of their lives, and this legislation will play a key part in keeping our children safe. I appreciate Representative Pascrell’s and Representative King’s work in introducing this important bill.”
Fires both on and off campuses have become all-too-common. Since January 2000, there have been 170 college or university-related fire fatalities. Sprinkler systems and other life-saving devices can only do so much to protect our young people.
The Campus Fire Safety Education Act would create a new competitive Campus Fire Safety Education Grant Program at institutions of higher education that will increase fire safety awareness among college students, help improve their fire training, and save lives. The grant program will allow institutions of higher education to receive funding to initiate, expand, or improve a fire safety education program on their campus.
Schools can apply on their own or in collaboration with a nonprofit fire safety organization or public safety department, including fraternities and sororities. Because a high proportion of student fires occur off-campus, schools will be encouraged to use these funds to educate students living both on and off-campus.
The Campus Fire Safety Education Act is endorsed by fire safety and campus organizations, including the National Association of State Fire Marshals, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Campus Firewatch, National Fire Protection Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association, Congressional Fire Services Institute, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Center for Campus Fire Safety. It is additionally endorsed by the National Education Association, the National Panhellenic Council, and the North American Interfraternity Conference.
In 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act became law with provisions from the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act introduced by Rep. Pascrell and the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). This law requires schools to make an annual report to the U.S. Department of Education on fire safety data including the number of campus fires and cause of each fire, the number of injuries related to fires, and policies on smoking, open flames, and portable electrical appliances. Schools responded to this law with real progress, adding sprinkler systems and other lifesaving devices to dormitories and off-campus housing. With this added attention to fire safety, the number of campus fire fatalities has decreased from an average of 17 per year before the Right-to-Know Act was enacted to 5 per year after.
Throughout his time in the Congress, Rep. Pascrell has worked to secure federal grants and funding for police, firefighters, and first responders. Pascrell authored the FIRE Act which led to creation of the Assistance for Firefighters Grants and SAFER firefighter staffing programs. In July 2018, Rep. Pascrell celebrated the signing into law of his Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931), which creates a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with the deadly disease. Earlier this year, the President signed the Pascrell-authored H.R. 2379, legislation renewing the bulletproof vest partnership grant program.