Film, panel program stresses dormitory fire safety

Film, panel program stresses dormitory fire safety

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Image from film "One Mother's Fire."
Image from "One Mother's Fire."

The showing of an award-winning documentary and a follow-up discussion April 9 stressed the importance of dormitory fire safety and the deadly consequences that can result if safety is not taken seriously.

The program in King Auditorium in Bozorth Hall was hosted by Diana Nicolae, an associate professor in Radio, Television & Film (College of Communication & Creative Arts), who produced and directed One Mother’s Fire: The Gail Minger Story, which followed the aftermath of a 1998 arson at Murray State University in Kentucky in which Minger’s son, Michael, died.

Attending the program and speaking afterward, Minger said there had been a variety of safety issues at the high-rise dormitory where her son lived that had gone unaddressed for years as well as a previously set fire that had been reported as an accident. Adding to the tragedy was that Minger feared for her son’s safety before the fire and did not want him living in the dorm. Though he was a gifted classical singer and an aspiring journalist, Michael suffered from organizational and spatial disabilities that his mother believed made him vulnerable.

“The authorities so sadly failed us and frankly told us lies,” she said of her experience following her son’s death.

The film depicts Minger’s work as an activist for campus safety who successfully campaigned for laws to better protect college students. That work, she said, has led to more stringent fire safety laws in seven states, including Kentucky.

Following the film, a panel including Minger, Assistant Vice President for Residential Learning & Inclusion Travis Douglas, Clery Center Executive Director Alison Kiss, Mark McAvoy, deputy chief of the Glassboro Fire Department, and resident assistant Chase Pecoraro discussed the importance of fire safety on campus.

The program was held nearly a year to the day following an April 7, 2017 fire at Mimosa Hall on Rowan’s main Glassboro campus that caused water and smoke damage to one room but resulted in no injuries.

McAvoy said following a fatal 2000 fire at Boland Hall on the campus of Seton Hall University all New Jersey dormitories were retrofitted with sprinklers but that the existence of sprinklers alone does not equate to a fire safe campus.

He noted that there have been cases where students came to disregard fire alarms after a series of false alarms went off.

“The fact is, fires do happen, and you have to treat every alarm as if there is a fire,” he said.

Douglas said Rowan continually trains dormitory staff and students about fire safety, training that starts before students even arrive for classes.

“Fire safety discussions start as early as orientation, followed by additional discussions move-in day, followed by health & safety inspections during the year,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure students are safe… and we put this information in front of them again and again.”

Nicolae, whose film is scheduled for broadcast on regional PBS stations, said she met Minger initially while making short campus safety films for the Clery Center and was moved to document her story.

“Gail is one of the most important advocates for campus fire safety today,” she said.