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DormCon, RFSC Develop Plan To Inspect Dorms’ Fire Safety

By Karen E. Robinson

Beginning next fall, all MIT dormitory rooms will be inspected for fire safety under a plan currently being developed by the Dormitory Council and the Residential Fire Safety Committee.

Inspections will be scheduled up to a week in advance, and inspectors will not open drawers or otherwise ask to see the students’ belongings. “We’re working really hard to make sure the students are comfortable with the policy,” said Jennifer A. Frank ’00, DormCon President.

Halston W. Taylor, Burton-Conner housemaster and RFSC member, cautioned that “if the inspectors happen to see something in clear view, it will be their responsibility to report it, same as mechanics or housekeepers.”

“We’re hoping to make it more apparent what is and is not allowed” before the time of the inspections, Frank said.

Frank mentioned that, contrary to many students’ belief, halogen lamps are allowed in dorm rooms. Halogen lamps with long curtains near them or with clothes draped over them, however, are considered a fire hazard.

Room inspections will aim to ensure that both dormitory facilities and students’ room arrangement are safe. “They’ll be looking almost exclusively for fire safety issues: blocked sprinklers, poor or excessive wiring, blocked avenues of egress, stockpiles of full gasoline and propane tanks,” said Gabriel M. Rockefeller ’00, DormCon Vice President.

If there are problems with the room setup, the student will be given time to fix the problems, Rockefeller said. It has not been decided what will happen if the student does not make the required changes, but Rockefeller stated that “fines will probably not be necessary.”

It is also unclear how fire hazards in public areas, such as in floor or suite lounges, will be addressed.

Procedure will vary by house

While inspection procedure will come partially from the RFSC, Frank said that each dorm’s house manager will supervise inspections. The actual inspections will most likely be conducted by the house manager and a student, although the Safety Office or from the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs will assist in inspection until house managers are more comfortable with the process.

House managers and students will be given a list of hazardous items. Rockefeller said that the list will be issued by the Safety Office.

Inspections will be scheduled during a time convenient for the student. Students will have a right to be present during the inspections, and the inspection will be rescheduled if the student is not home. Only after the student has missed the rescheduled appointment will the inspector be allowed to enter the room without the student’s room without the student present.

“The Institute is completely within their rights” to conduct inspections, Frank stated, adding, “In fact, [the inspectors] really should, legally, be inspecting to make sure we’re safe in the rooms.”

Pet policy also being considered

The fate of pets is also uncertain under the new inspection policy. While cats are not currently allowed in any MIT dormitory, DormCon is considering some sort of official sanction. One policy under consideration would be to designate certain areas of a dorm for people who plan to have pets, Frank said. That way, freshmen choosing housing would know clearly what animals they can expect to find on a certain floor or dorm.