â€œThis is the first time we have congressional support for a new initiative to bring fire and life safety alarm detection to the same visibility with policymakers as suppression,â€ pointed out John Chwat, director of government relations for the NBFAA. â€œFire detection plus fire suppression equals fire safety. Thatâ€™s the overriding theme of this bill, and thatâ€™s very, very important to our portion of the industry.â€
H.R.4460, the â€œCollege Life Safety and Fire Protection Act,â€ was introduced by Rep.Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) at the request of the NBFAA on Dec. 7, 2005.
From January 2000 to April 30, 2005, 75 people were killed in student housing fires, reported the non-profit Center for Campus Fire Safety. Missing or disabled smoke alarms and a lack of automatic fire sprinkler systems were two of the most common factors in these fires.
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends installation of smoke alarms in every dormitory room and every level of housing facilities, along with the regular testing of smoke alarms and fire alarm systems.
Fossella works closely with Wagner College on Staten Island and was looking for a good issue, Chwat recounted. Other co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), chairman of the Subcommittee on Select Education, and James Walsh (R-N.Y.).
Colleges and universities could apply to the Department of Education for the matching grants to upgrade their fire detection and suppression equipment if the bill becomes law and the funding for it â€“ $1 million for each of three years â€“ is appropriated, Chwat explained.
â€œBecause it helps save college students and faculty lives, I think it has a very good chance of being considered in committee,â€ Chwat predicted. â€œBecause the amount of money being authorized is not huge, itâ€™ll have very good support.â€
The bill is pending in the House Education and Work Force Committee. Chwat expects the issue will be addressed in March or April. He is hopeful of getting the bill introduced into the Senate later in the year.
Chwat reported growing support within other sectors of the industry such as the National Fire Protection Association, which endorsed the bill.
No restrictions on the type of equipment eligible for the matching grants is made in the bill. These include smoke detectors, pull stations, sprinklers and other fire detection technologies.
â€œThe definition in the bill is written deliberately to make everyone happy and to make the bill supportable by committee and to move it to passage rather than picking one technology over another,â€ Chwat observed.
â€œIf thereâ€™s good response, then Congress would come back and perhaps authorize more money or even mandate device installations, but thatâ€™s down the road,â€ he suggests.