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Fire marshal report reprimands Butte Hall

Yessenia Funes

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Mark Stemen, associate professor in the geography and planning department, discuss the fire safety issues in Butte Hall. Photo credit: Yessenia Funes


Butte Hall’s corridors now stand naked as departments have been instructed to remove bulletin boards, recycling bins and seating from outside their offices.

State Fire Marshal Carol Jordan inspected the building in December and reported several fire code violations in February.

The report required the removal of tea kettles, microwaves, refrigerators and coffeemakers that were being used in several offices, including one on the second floor and several on the fourth-through-seventh floors.

Many power taps were “daisy-chained” too, meaning power strips were connected to extension cords, according to the report.

Both these items were fire hazards that Mark Stemen, an associate professor in the geography and planning department with an office in the building, understood.

However, Stemen was caught off-guard by the paper and bench removal in the hallways, he said.

“When did they become illegal?” Stemen said. “Where are students going to sit? Just sit on the floor and stare at blank walls?”

The report indicated that required removal of items from the corridors carried over from the last major inspection of Butte Hall in 2011.

As for the bulletin boards, departments can cover their walls in paper, but it can only cover 20 percent of the corridors. It is up to those departments to divide wall space, said Marvin Pratt, director of Environmental Health and Safety, who handles these reports.

The corridors are supposed to be fire-safety zones, but with too much flammable content, the halls are no longer safe from fires.

Even so, Pratt disagrees with the report’s required removal of benches, he said.

Past fire marshals did not complain about the benches, but Jordan is more detailed than previous officials, Pratt said.

Some fire marshals may brush things away, so the inspection depends partly on who is inspecting.

Pratt hopes to find more information regarding the violations and ask Jordan and her supervisor to reconsider the required removal of the benches, he said.

The corridors are not Stemen’s only concern. He worries about the doors that reportedly need adjusting to latch properly, he said.

The doors work their way out of adjustment with students and faculty using them every day, so they may swing shut but won’t latch, Pratt said.

With Facilities Management and Services’ 23-employee staff to monitor tasks dealing with electrical, plumbing and many other maintenance areas on campus, addressing these issues takes time, said Luis Caraballo, the department’s assistant vice president.

“It’s a pretty daunting responsibility,” he said. “So, we do get to many things, but like everything, you’re not going to get to everything.”

Environmental Health and Safety divides the reports among departments so they can address the issues on their own, Pratt said.

Facilities Management and Services may handle some items like door maintenance, but academic offices may handle other things like removing paper from the walls.

If an issue is urgent and labeled as immediately dangerous to life and health, it must be addressed within seven days, Pratt said. However, the report listed none of the sort.

The report did list:

  • Stair-enclosure doors on the second and third floors must be replaced.
  • The fire alarm system needed repairing because it indicated a “trouble” signal, which means something is wrong with a single alarm and it needs examining. The department’s fire alarm contractor, Simplex-Grinnell, examined the system during spring break.
  • Monthly fire extinguisher inspections were inconsistent. These are visual checkups of the extinguishers, separate from the annual inspections that evaluate the mechanics and operation of the extinguishers.
  • Housekeeping was needed on several floors and rooms throughout the building.

Yessenia Funes can be reached at [email protected] or @yessfun on Twitter.

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Fire marshal report reprimands Butte Hall