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In response to the fatal dormitory fire at Seton Hall University two weeks ago, an independent marketing firm reported that 67 percent of the college campuses surveyed over a two-day period have at least one dormitory without a sprinkler system. Overall, the facilities administrators in the survey said 43 percent of their campuses' dormitories are not equipped with sprinkler systems. And 37 percent of those surveyed reported that false alarms are a problem on their campuses. The schools, which ranged from small private schools to large state universities, average 3.2 false alarms per month, with responses ranging from zero false alarms to as many as 27 each month. The fire at Seton Hall, which killed three students and injured 62 others, prompted a flurry of media inquiries about campus fire safety, leading the New Jersey school to ask the firm to survey schools about the prevalence of sprinkler systems in residence halls and the frequency and severity of false fire alarms on college campuses. The telephone poll, conducted by the Chicago-based marketing communications firm Lipman Hearne, surveyed 57 facilities administrators chosen randomly from schools in eight states. While the reactions to the incident have been focused on the families and friends of the victims, Seton Hall spokeswoman Lisa Grider said it is still important to look at the school's fire protection policies. "There continues to be a sense of profound sadness and grief," Grider said. Boland Hall, the dorm where the fire occurred, was built in the early 1950s and houses 600 students. It had not held any fire drills during the current academic year, even though two drills per year are required by the state fire code. The school has reported 18 false fire alarms since September, however. At Penn, officials say, fire safety is always a concern. John Cook, a safety specialist at the University, said every residential building has a sprinkler system or an equivalent variation. Also, every living space is equipped with a hard-wire smoke detector. In addition, a fire drill is held twice each semester in every residence hall. Cook added that while false alarms -- defined as an intentional, malicious activation of an alarm system when no danger exists -- are not a major problem, compliance with evacuation procedures often is an issue. "By nature, when a person hears an alarm in a building, for some reason, [he] is reluctant to leave immediately," Cook said. Assistant Vice Provost for University Life Juana Lewis agreed with Cook that adherence to building evacuation procedures is an issue that deserves more attention. "I empathize with the frustrations students feel when they are needlessly disturbed by false alarms?. But there are no other wise alternatives," Lewis said. The Seton Hall fire could lead to New Jersey laws requiring sprinklers in all college dormitories in the state, revising a 1991 building code amendment that requires sprinkler systems in only new high-rise buildings.

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