Incense. Hot plates. Propane tanks. Fireworks. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that these items are prohibited in Vassar dwellings.
The category of fire hazard, however, is broader than what one might think. Students may be breaking the rules—and risking the penalties—without even knowing it.
Associate Director of Residential Life Rich Horowitz addressed how his office has the task of deciding which particular parts of the college’s regulation should communicated directly to students.
“There’s so many of them, are you going to have to make the decision of what to highlight,” said Horowitz. He worries that if students become inundated by long lists of prohibitions they will begin to ignore the information all together.
In addition to the ones the Office of Residential Life conducts at the beginning and end of each semester, the College engages in a different, annual housing inspection, this time accompanied by a representative of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention Control who will enter and inspect a random number and selection of campus rooms and residences.
Director of Environmental Health and Safety Jim Kelly and Coordinator of the Residential Operations Anna Belle Jones correspond with the visiting state inspector.
They described how, if the state official searches the room and finds a fire safety concern in a room or residence, the office would send the responsible student up to three separate warnings before collecting a fine.
The first notice comes in the form of a note left behind in the room after the initial inspection. A few days later, the student will receive an email for their second notification. This email announces the date by which the student must address the violation.
Kelly and Jones wrote in a joint emailed statement, “The first re-inspection occurs approximately 30-40 days after the initial inspection. The OFPC [Official Fire Prevention Control] inspector and Residential Life staff member will return to ensure the violation was corrected. If the violation has been corrected, the process is finished, no fine is levied and no further entry into the room/house is required.”
In cases that the violation is still present, the office will send a second email to the student with a second correction date. This day would be the student’s last chance to remove the offending violation and avoid a fine.
“During the second re-inspection, if the violation is not corrected, a fine will be levied,” wrote the Kelly and Jones. Fines, depending on the severity, can run upwards of $500 per day.
In preparation for the inspector’s visit, Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa sent an email to the student body listing some of the most common violations found in the past.
One violation states that no “more than 10% of the wall covering.”
The language in the Student Handbook is stricter, banning the “hanging [of] fabric to walls and windows/ceiling.”
According to Horowitz, the exact wording of the restriction could be revised in the future..
“The [code] shouldn’t really read ‘hanging fabric from wall and ceilings’,” he said. “It should read ‘hanging excessive amounts of fabric’ and I have a note in here that it is something that might be changed.”
Inoa mentioned that the College’s fire safety guideline concerning another violation might be clarified in the future. After New York State updated their fire regulations, the College recently banned all personal upholstered furniture. Mattresses, however, do not currently fall under this particular restriction. By bringing a personal mattress on campus, though, a student risks running into another violation of the College’s code: obstructing a clear path of exit within rooms.
Inoa wrote, “Since students can not remove any furniture—bringing in a mattress and an additional bed frame typically creates a hazard. The rooms are just not big enough.”.
Asked whether or not a student, citing a health reason such as back pain, could obtain permission to use his or her own mattress, Inoa added, “Personal mattresses are only allowed via a requested accommodation from the Office of Accessibility and Educational Opportunities.”
The state fire inspector this week will be checking for another type of violations common in dorm rooms. Students are required to maintain an 18 inch clearance below the sprinkler heads. Hanging or storing any materials above this line is a fire hazard. The concern follows that water from the sprinkler system would be unable to extinguish a fire that reaches up to the ceiling.
Horowitz described as what he saw at the role of students when it comes to assessing the many fire and safety codes and restrictions.
He said, “There is a general expectation that we have is that students know where to find the expectations that are made of them, and if they don’t, at least they know where to find them.”