Supervisor Romaine calls for SBU fire safety reforms

Supervisor Romaine calls for SBU fire safety reforms

Setauket firefighters get set with a ladder to approach the second floor dormitory fire area as soon as interior firefighters put water on the fire to extinguish flames. Photo from SFD/R. O'Rourk

A serious dormitory blaze at Stony Brook University has Brookhaven Town’s supervisor calling for fire safety reforms.

The fire broke out on Saturday, Nov. 21, in a student’s room on the second floor of O’Neill College — one of four residential buildings in Mendelsohn Quad — forcing about 115 students to relocate to temporary housing, the university said in a statement.

Setauket Fire Department responded to the call and received mutual aid from Stony Brook, St. James and Port Jefferson departments, but officials soon discovered that they had to carry hoses up to the second floor because there were no standpipes there to connect to due to the building’s decades-old architecture, the Setauket Fire Department said in a statement.

While the flames were eventually tamed, the incident still sparked Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) to call on the university to upgrade its fire protection systems and to contribute to the cost of fire protection.

The fire is extinguished but a clean-up of debris from the room continues to ensure no hidden flames exist. Photo from SFD/R. O'Rourk
The fire is extinguished but a clean-up of debris from the room continues to ensure no hidden flames exist. Photo from SFD/R. O’Rourk

In a statement provided to Times Beacon Record Newspapers, Romaine said that O’Neill College was built more than five decades ago and was outfitted with a fire alarm system that only warns of a fire, without a sprinkler system to combat it. He said the university lacked necessary fire-prevention measures, like a standpipe system in the building, to allow firefighters to access water for their hoses.

Romaine also noted that the most recently built dormitories at SBU include fire alarms and sprinkler systems, which he said would have prevented the size and magnitude of the fire at O’Neill.

“Two lessons emerge from this fire,” Romaine said. “First, Stony Brook University needs to upgrade the system in the dormitories that lack these essential fire protection systems. Second, New York State and the university should contribute to the cost of fire protection; it should not be borne by the taxpayers of Stony Brook and Setauket Fire Districts alone.”

A spokesman for the Setauket Fire Department said the cause of the fire was still under investigation and there were no reported injuries.

The SBU campus resides within the Setauket, Stony Brook and St. James fire districts, the university’s environmental health and safety department said.

Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for Stony Brook University, said the university was operating in full compliance with state building code requirements and that all campus residence halls were equipped with “state-of-the-art fire alarm systems that are monitored 24/7 at university police headquarters.”

Over recent years, Sheprow said, SBU has taken administrative, engineering and educational steps to reduce fire alarms, minimize the impact on nearby fire departments and facilitate its own emergency response.

“At Stony Brook, student safety is a top priority and we take that responsibility very seriously,” she said in a statement. “The university has implemented numerous initiatives over the years to enhance fire safety and prevention and to reduce unnecessary response by community fire departments to the campus. The university has a great deal of respect for the community volunteers who dedicate their time to fire emergencies — in fact many of these volunteers work at Stony Brook University — and we are grateful for the swift response in November.”

The university’s most recent annual fire report and statistics reported eight fires throughout 2014, across all on-campus residence halls, resulting in a total of $20 worth of property damage. Most of the incidents were reported as grease fires, and none of the eight occurred at O’Neill College, where the most recent reported incident before this dated back to two trash can fires in 2013.