Sunday, August 23, 2015

No charges against landlord in off-campus fire that killed BU student

BU Senior Binland Leed
What's going on in Boston? 

Not much, it would appear, to address the off-campus housing problem.

An article today in the Boston Globe outlined how no charges are going to be filed against a Boston landlord after a fire that killed Boston University Senior Binland Lee in 2013, despite the many violations found in the building.

Photo by Boston Fire
On top of this, fifteen months earlier, a fire right across the street forced another BU student, Josh Goldenberg, to jump from his third-story apartment. As a result of his injuries, Josh was in a coma for three months. He is being sued by the insurance company of an adjacent house that was damaged by the fire. You can read the article for more information.

Photo by Boston Fire

After a three-part Boston Globe Spotlight series "The Shadow Campus" exposed many of the problems with off-campus housing in Boston, the city said they were going to address many of the issues that were exposed.

However, in a May 22 article in the Boston Globe, it was reported that no citations had been issued at all.

In a few weeks, students will be descending upon Boston for a new school year. Last year I spent the weekend riding around the Allston and Mission Hill neighborhoods, interviewing parents and students about their experience, and the overwhelming reaction was incredibly negative. 

Move-in weekend, 2014
Photo by Campus Firewatch
First, having to move all of their belongings out on August 31, storing them for the night (somewhere) and then moving them into the new apartment on September 1. That means there is 1) no time for the places to be cleaned 2) no time for the landlords to do any maintenance, repairs or upkeep and 3) an absolute zoo when it comes to traffic in the city.

Traffic comes to a standstill on move-in weekend
Photo, Campus Firewatch

I think that just about all of the parents I spoke with had not seen the apartments their children were moving into until that moment, and all of them were pretty taken aback. I spoke with one mother who was moving her daughter into an apartment across from the building where Binland Lee had died, which was still standing with the top floor burned, and asked if she knew what had happened. She hadn't even noticed the building...

The building where Binland Lee died, a year-and-a-half later on move-in weekend
Photo, Campus Firewatch

Boston University is the largest school, and most of the students in the Allston neighborhood are probably BU students. In the past few years, there have been four college/university-related fire fatalities in Boston, and all of them have been BU students. 

So, the question I have is...what is the city, the fire department and all of the schools in Boston doing?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How incidents are included in the Campus Fatal Firelog

When I started Campus Firewatch back in 2000, one of the first things I did was to start monitoring the media for college/university-related fires that turned into a Fatal Firelog that I maintain. This is a very comprehensive listing that has details on each incident in variety of formats, including

This is the only detailed listing available of these incidents because so  many of them are off-campus, where over 80% of the fire deaths occur and where most of the students live, and there are no official statistics or data kept on these, other than what I collect through the media.

Back then it was through Lexis/Nexis, but now I have it automated by using Google News with a number of keyword searches. Every day I get a series of emails with a number of stories that I comb through and identify incidents that involve schools or students.

One of the first things I had to do was develop the criteria for choosing the incidents, and this is what I landed on:
  • A fire incident that involved a student
  • There is no age restriction on how old the student at the time
  • If the fire involved a fatality, if it was in a student's apartment/home, any of the victims were there because of the student, they would be included. A case in point, in one fire, the parents were helping the student move in and stayed overnight in the house. All three died in the fire that night. In another fire, the student's siblings were visiting his apartment and all died in the fire.
  • There is no geographic restriction on where the fire was in relation to the school. Many students have cars and are willing to drive longer distances to find lower rents or there may be a bus system that services a large area. Some organizations put what I feel is an arbitrary radius of three or five miles, and I'm not sure the rationale for that.

    For example, I'm near the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. A three-mile radius would not even encompass all of the town of Amherst, and a five-mile radius would not reach up to Sunderland, to the north, or encompass all of Hadley to the west, or towards Belchertown to the east, all places where I know students are living. You can see this on the map below.

    (Click on the image below to see a larger version)

    In another case, three students were attending school in Arizona but were taking a mandatory internship in Chicago when they were killed in a fire. I include this in my list of incidents.

    Basically, my rationale is that no matter where they were living, if they had been taught basic fire safety knowledge by the school, this could have made a difference in whether the fire broke out in the first place, whether they might have had working smoke alarms or two ways out, or whether they and their friends or family may have been able to escape the fire.
Is it perfect? 

No, there are always shades of gray, but I feel that what I have been collecting for over the past 15 years is solid enough to show that the problem is clearly off-campus and that there is a downward trend that we have been seeing over this time.

(Click on the image below to see a larger version)

Please feel free to stop on by Campus Firewatch and look at the data yourself, everything I have I publish online for people to use and you can make  your own judgement!

Also, you know why I think we're having such a downward trend in fire deaths?

Education-the education that schools and communities are doing is making a HUGE difference, and thanks for all that you are doing!

Ed Comeau

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Campus Firewatch Radio is on the air!

We're live!

Campus Firewatch Radio is a new podcast series that focuses on campus fire safety issues, breaking news and interviews with experts in the field. The first episode, National Campus Fire Safety Month is available online now and you can listen to it streaming or download it to your computer at Campus Firewatch Radio. You can also subscribe to it in iTunes and get each episode delivered to you automatically.

Every two weeks there will be a new episode touching on topics such as...
  • An interview with Seton Hall student Shawn Simons talking about the incredible journey that he and his roommate, Alvaro Llanos, went through After the Fire
  • An interview with Paul Otenti talking about how he using creativity in engaging with students about fire safety
  • Corey Lewis and I talking about Ten Things to Try 
...and much more!

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @cfwradio and subscribe at iTunes to see what we're talking about!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Georgetown Graduate Student killed in off-campus fire

Nina Brekelmans, a master's student who had just graduated from Georgetown Univeristy, was killed in an off-campus fire in Washington, DC. The apartment that Nina was living in was a three-story rowhouse in the Dupont Circle area. I'm in the process of interviewing officials and putting together more information, and I'll post it here, on Campus Firewatch, Twitter and Facebook when I have it ready.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Close call, off-campus house fire, Univ of Massachusetts Amherst

There was a  close call with an off-campus house fire in Amherst, Massachusetts, that displaced a number of students from the University of Massachusetts. The fire broke out at about 12:30 in the morning and everyone was able to get out, there were no injuries.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Close call in Easton, Massachusetts

A fire in an off-campus house where 11 students from nearby Stonehill College were living was a close-call for them. One evening, a student turned on the stove to pre-heat it, not realizing that there was a plastic dish strainer mat inside of it. He went upstairs to take a shower and the mat melted, smoking up the kitchen. One of the other occupants saw the smoke, alerted everyone, and they all got out. Close call indeed, but there is more to this story, as told by Fire Chief Kevin Partridge, about overcrowding, blocked exits, smoke alarms and bedrooms locked with hasps and padlocks. Listen to his account in the video below.