Fire department to address concerns over MU's Greek sprinkler systems

Sunday, September 23, 2007 | 9:02 p.m. CDT; updated 10:54 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Fire Department will address concerns Monday raised by MU’s Greek community about the installation of fire sprinkler systems into Greek houses and annexes.

The main concern from fraternities is that the houses will not have sufficient time to raise enough money from alumni and other sources to have the systems installed by Dec. 31, 2012, said Interfraternity Council spokesman Jeffrey Beeson. The City Council set the deadline for sprinkler installation when it approved the 2006 International Fire Code in January.

“We definitely are for making fraternity houses safer,” Beeson said. “We feel that the law is geared to make us safer, and we appreciate that.”

The fire department will make its presentation at 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon at the Building Construction Codes Commission meeting in the City Council chambers. The department is responding to questions raised by members of the Greek community at the Aug. 21 commission meeting.

Fire Batallion Chief Steve Sapp said the fire department added the sprinkler provision after studying other cities’ ordinances that gave Greek houses an average of five years to complete the installation. At the council meeting when the code was approved, Beeson asked for a seven- to 10-year plan.

“We can all pick a number. What is the right number? Is it five years? Is it seven years? Is it 10 years? Is it 15 years? I don’t know,” Sapp said. “We looked at what we’re seeing as an average.”

He said the department also noticed that a majority of the fraternities and sororities in other communities had met the goals.

He said he understands how expensive the sprinkler systems are for Greek houses but also said that the amount of money a house would have to pay in a death or injury lawsuit from a fire could well exceed the price of the systems.

Another concern with the ordinance is that fraternities and sororities are being unfairly singled out, Beeson said.

Beeson also hopes the commission will clarify what constitutes a fraternity or sorority and include those groups that live in old Greek houses.

Sapp said he believes that the definition of a sorority or fraternity as semi-permanent and non-transient housing is clear. In order to more specifically define the group, Sapp said the city would have to spend time scouring codes to create an entirely new definition just for Greek houses.

After the fire department presents its report at the meeting, the commission will make a staff report to the council. The council can then decide whether to change the ordinance.

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