SMSU fire safety violations repaired

Smith Memorial Student Union, a central location on campus, had over 200 fire code violations last year, according to SMSU’s General Manager Mark Russell.

Smith Memorial Student Union, a central location on campus, had over 200 fire code violations last year, according to SMSU’s General Manager Mark Russell.

“[The violations included] everything from missing ceiling tiles to overloaded outlets and missing fire extinguishers,” Russell said. “But nothing put the building in imminent danger.”

The city’s fire report, completed by the Bureau of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services’ Fire Prevention Division, cited a slew of other charges as well, including the fact that nearly all of the building’s fire doors were not up to code.

Russell explained that the doors were old and were not magnetized, meaning that in the event of a fire there was no mechanism that would allow them to automatically close to prevent flames from spreading.

Faced with nearly $25,000 in fines for the violations, Facilities and Planning and the SMSU building management chose to repair the doors, as well as make other minor updates to the building, for an estimated $19,000.

According to Russell, a large majority of the citations were for behaviors as opposed to structural problems. For example, many offices practiced what he refers to as “gang plugging,” where multiple plugs are connected to one outlet. This often happens when a power strip is plugged into another, and is a serious fire hazard, Russell said.

In addition, other rooms in SMSU used extension cords to direct electricity throughout the space, which is generally more hazardous than permanent wiring, according to the fire inspection report.

As a result, Russell said he attempted to encourage behavioral changes in people who frequently use the building, including those who have permanent office spaces.

Other minor violations cited included offices where things were found hanging from or in front of vents or sprinkler heads, as well as where ceiling tiles were missing. In the event of a fire, a missing tile can allow flames to climb higher than the sprinkler system, causing the fire to spread beyond the reach of the sprinklers. 

Similarly, obstructions of fire exit corridors and doors were found on all floors throughout the SMSU, and were particularly problematic in the sub-basement area, Russell said.

To enact behavioral changes, Russell spoke with the offices that were particularly bad about gang plugging and sent out a flyer, with a photo of Smokey the Bear, to the entire building. The flyer outlined five rules, with the disclaimer that “any fire code fines will be paid by the office that generates fines.”

While there are a number of permanent offices in SMSU, it is also a heavily trafficked building, primarily because it houses student groups, the cafeteria and student lounging spaces.  

This fact, Russell said, makes the building corrode at a much faster rate and requires much more regular maintenance. Fortunately, FAP and PSU have a large maintenance staff on retainer that is capable of doing a majority of the repairs throughout the year at a relatively low cost. This made replacing ceiling tiles, for example, a comparably economical repair.

Of the 200 and some violations, all have been fixed or are in the process of being fixed, Russell said, which should put students at ease.

“I am happy to say that, thanks to the hard work of the Auxiliary Maintenance and Smith work crews, we have fixed all the problems and had no outstanding violations as of our re-inspection in March,” Russell said.