COLUMBIA — Greek houses would have until 2016 to install fire sprinkler systems if the Columbia City Council approves a recommendation from a task force that's been studying the issue for months.
The recommendation, approved by the Fire Sprinkler Task Force on Monday night, extends by two years the five-year deadline that the group had previously considered. The idea is to give fraternities and sororities more time to raise money for the systems.
Members of the Fire Sprinkler Task Force are:
Chairman Skip Walther, attorney
Bruce Piringer of the Boone County Fire Department and the Fire and Rescue Training Institute, Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department
Sam K. Williams, a regional underwriting specialist of Shelter Insurance
Janet Wheeler, president of the Kappa Alpha Theta Facility Corporation Board
Wayne Whitehead of the engineering firm Shafer, Kline, and Warren
City liaison John Sudduth of the Office of Protective Inspection
The task force also is recommending the council extend the sprinkler requirement to other groups with student housing at MU and at Columbia and Stephens colleges, arguing it would be discrimination to require only Greek houses to comply.
"Fire doesn't discriminate," Donna Henson, whose son was killed in a fraternity house fire at MU in 1999, told the task force.
Henson showed a video illustrating how the lack of fire alarms and other safety features at the Sigma Chi house contributed to the death of her son, Dominic Passentino, who was a freshman when he died. Task force member Sam Williams asserted that there has never been a fatality in a sorority or fraternity house equipped with sprinklers.
Fred Malicoat, chairman of the Columbia Building Codes Commission, said the suggestions would amend a 2007 ordinance requiring that sprinkler systems be installed in all new duplexes. The modifications now include retrofitting Greek housing with fire safety features.
The task force, which has met four times since being appointed in November, is calling for five total amendments to the 2007 fire safety city ordinance. They are:
- A two-year extension for campus housing to raise money and install sprinklers.
- A lower-level sprinkler requirement. Under the new recommendation, campus housing would have to install only a system designed to save lives rather than lives and property.
- Cost abatements such as low-interest loans to help organizations comply with the sprinkler requirement.
- Help, in the form of variances, for groups that make good efforts but struggle to complete fundraising.
Eliminating discrimination against fraternities and sororities was important to task force members.
Based on a similar ordinance adopted
in Stillwater, Okla., this amendment would include Greek houses and "all
those affiliated by social, honorary, and professional" bonds and are
recognized as organizations by the university. In Columbia, this would include
Evans Scholar, the Campus Christian House and other similar housing at
Stephens and Columbia colleges.
Given the broader definition, the task force estimated 30 or more groups would have to install sprinklers in their buildings. To maintain full occupancy during school sessions, most of these projects would have to be done over the summer.
Williams estimated a company could complete three sprinkler installation projects in one summer, leaving the task force confident that all houses could complete renovations within the new time frame.
Advisers of the Alpha Gamma Sigma and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity houses attended the meeting and urged the task force to think about the economy and what an extensive project such as installing sprinklers would cost.