detectors was in place. The report by NFPA (1995) summarized that an automatic
sprinkler system would have controlled the fire in the early stages.
While Grant concurs that smoke detectors and alarms provide some warning, a
response time of three to five minutes by local fire departments is not adequate when a
fire occurs in a confined room of less than 200 square feet. Fire sprinklers, she argues,
are widely recognized as the single most effective method for fighting the spread of fires
in their early stages. According to the NFPA, damage caused by fires is 78 percent less
in sprinkled buildings and no record of a fire killing more than two people exists in
buildings that are completely sprinkled (Grant, 1999).
Mongeau (1999) described the fire safety features of West Campus Residence
Hall built at Northeastern University in 1999. At the time, nearly one-third of 12,000
full-time students resided in on-campus dormitories. According to Jim Ferrier, Associate
Director of Public Safety at Northeastern, the new residence hall maintained the most
comprehensive safety and security systems of any urban campus in America. This
included a full-time public safety division, building safety features, fire detection and
alarms, and an automatic sprinkler system.
Students are required to enter and exit using only the main entrances of the 13-
story facility. Other exits are provided for emergency exit only. Such exits have
electromagnetic locks with alarms. Should a student attempt to use the door during non-
emergency periods, an audible alarm sounds and a delay of 15 seconds occurs before the
lock disengages. This practice ensures corridors are compartmentalized and prevents the
possible spread of potential fire to adjoining areas. However, if a fire alarm is
transmitted, the lock disengages immediately allowing prompt egress.