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Shuttering still cause for fire concern

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Antioch College supporters still have reason to feel concerned about the safety of the recent campus shutdown, according to a college alumnus and fire safety expert.

“If everyone has the idea that Antioch buildings are protected by sprinkler systems, that’s false,” said Gene Milgram of Annapolis, Md., in an interview last week. Milgram, an alumnus who as a student served on the college’s fire department and later worked for eight years as an analyst for the New York State Office for Fire Prevention and Control, contacted the News regarding recent articles on the subject.

Of concern, according to Milgram, was last week’s News article that stated that the college’s sprinkler systems were operational, as reported by Antioch College Vice President Milt Thompson. While Thompson had earlier stated that all water to shutdown buildings had been turned off, he later found that the sprinkler systems had been left on. Consequently, the university is in compliance with state fire codes, according to Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman.

But that article implied that all buildings are protected by sprinkler systems, which is not the case, according to Milgram. Rather, only recently-built or remodeled buildings are sprinkler protected, and those buildings are the Coretta Scott King Center, South Hall, Weston Hall, and the Pennell House, according to Altman. The attic of the Main Building has a sprinkler system, but the rest of the building does not, according to Altman, who also said a portion of the theater building has sprinklers.

The rest of campus buildings have standpipe or alarm systems, some of which are connected to a monitoring system and some of which are not, according to Altman in an interview last week.

For instance, while the wooden attic of Main Building is protected by a sprinkler, the rest of the building has an occupant standpipe system designed to be operated by building occupants in the event of fire. Since the building is not occupied, that system would not be operational, and while the building has a fire alarm, the alarm is not monitored. Consequently, a fire in Main Building will only become apparent after it has grown large enough to be seen by those outside the building, according to Milgram.

The library, Curl gym, and McGregor buildings also have unmonitored alarm systems, according to Altman, who said that Birch, South, Mills Hall and the science building have monitored systems. The majority of the campuses’ 27 buildings have monitored systems, according to Altman, which means the fire department would be alerted in a matter of minutes.

These systems are all in compliance with the state fire code, which requires that buildings meet the standards that were in place when the building was constructed, Altman said.

But even monitored alarm systems mean that a response to a fire outbreak would not be immediate, as it would be with a sprinkler system, according to Milgram.

“The crucial word in firefighting is time,” he said. “Everything is an attempt to reduce the time lag.”

In contrast, Altman said he is not concerned about the fire hazard on campus, at least partly because several buildings, including Main Hall and McGregor, are constructed of brick rather than wood, which slows fires.

“I don’t have a major concern about a fire hazard there as long as they maintain the security plan,” Altman said of the university.

In a recent meeting of Village Council, Yellow Springs Chief of Police John Grote stated that he had met with Thompson, who said the university has hired a security firm for limited security, that security cameras are being placed on campus and that maintenance employees will walk through unused buildings regularly.

While the state fire code requires that furniture and other flammables be removed in buildings with sprinkler systems if the sprinklers are not turned on, that requirement does not apply to buildings that do not have sprinkler systems, according to Altman, who said that to comply with code in the older buildings, the university may keep furniture inside but has to keep buildings secured through locking or through boarding up windows, he said. Thompson stated in an earlier interview that furniture remains in many buildings.

Thompson did not return a call seeking comment on the university’s security plan.

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