The county recently purchased a new fire truck to help cover the UCSB campus, but the county fire marshal is asking UCSB to help cover the costs for the purchase of an extra fire fighter.
Santa Barbara County Fire Marshal John Scherri used reserve funds to buy a truck with a ladder tall enough to reach the top story of some of the new buildings on the UCSB campus. County officials had worried that the new marine science research building, which the Regents approved May 16, was too tall for the county’s fire trucks to reach.
“We want to make sure the University knows this is an important issue for us,” 3rd District Supervisor’s Executive Assistant Mark Chaconas said.
The more immediate issue, Scherri said, is hiring a fourth fire fighter to work at the fire station on campus. However, providing the approximately $300,000 salary for a fourth fire fighter would put his department into debt.
An agreement established in the 1970s between the University and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department states that the University would provide utilities, a building and maintenance without charge to the department in return for services, Chaconas said.
The University provides no other funding to county fire services, but Scherri said a precedent has been set where large corporations provide resources to fire companies in exchange for services.
Two weeks ago, the National Fire Protection Association passed a national standard requiring four fire fighters for every urban company. These urban companies are supposed to follow a policy that requires two fire fighters to wait outside a building if two go in to inspect a possible fire.
Since the University does not pay taxes, which would go to county fire services, Scherri is asking that the University pay the extra $300,000 a year to pay for a fourth fire fighter.
“They have to prioritize. This has to be higher than bringing in a visiting lecturer or marbling off an entranceway,” he said.
Without a fourth fire fighter, Scherri said safety is compromised because it is hard for the three fire fighters on scene to adequately and safely oversee fire activities.
“There is this false perception from faculty, students and their parents that fire safety is taken care of on campus and everything is okay,” he said.
After the Nexus ran a story about campus fire safety on March 5, Fire Capt. Wes Herman met with the director of Housing and Residential Services, Wilfred Brown, and others to discuss possible scenarios without proper fire suppression items like sprinklers in the high rise dorms. Members from the Residence Halls Association agreed to put sprinklers in the high rise dorms during an upcoming retrofitting process.
“It’s a real cooperative atmosphere right now,” Herman said.
Though buildings constructed before 1990 do not legally require sprinklers, they will be installed in San Rafael and San Miguel in 2002 and in San Nicolas in 2003, Brown said. Manzanita Village, the four-story dorm currently under construction, will house a full sprinkler system.
In 1997, the United States Fire Administration found that smoke detectors were present in 97 percent of dorm fires, while sprinkler systems were present in only 28 percent. According to Fire Engineering magazine, 60 students have died in college residential fires in the last 34 years.
Herman said fire-suppression systems, such as sprinklers and alarms, decrease fire hazards by 97 percent.
The high-rise halls were built in the 1950s with the intent that they would handle a low appliance load. Since then, students have brought in computers, refrigerators, battery chargers and televisions, which, in total, surpass the amount of appliances the building should contain.
The increased occupancy in the dorms, resulting from more students and from room tripling during the 1999-2000 school year, increased the presence of electrical appliances and combustible materials like bedding and towels, creating a fire hazard, Herman said.
Breaker boxes within the dorms control the amount of electricity used and switch off when there is an excess of electrical output and heat. Herman said residents in the halls have also learned to locate the breaker boxes in each hall and turn on their rooms’ power if it has been switched off, creating a potential fire hazard.
Herman said UC firefighters receive 60 calls a year related to dorm fires, whether major, minor or precautionary. In previous years, the number of calls totaled approximately 125.
At UC Los Angeles, 100 firefighters can show up to a high rise fire within 12 minutes of the call, according to Herman.
“I would be lucky in 15 or 20 minutes to get 21 people there,” he said. “That would be a good day.”
At UC Berkeley, acting Campus Fire Marshall Dennis Muelling said the city of Berkley provides fire services for the campus, but the fire department has to fight to get sprinklers installed in the Residence Halls.
“If you have high-rise dorms without sprinklers,” he said, “that would be a legitimate concern.”