Campus, cities aim to improve fire safety

By Marie Felde, Public Affairs

The first steps in an action plan to improve fire safety for Berkeley students living in rental houses were taken last week by Chancellor Berdahl and officials from Berkeley and Oakland.

"A significant portion of Berkeley students live in private rental housing. We need to work together to find ways to educate our students about fire safety and intensify inspections and monitoring of these rentals," said Berdahl.

Berdahl called the special meeting Feb. 9 following last month's Oakland house fire that claimed the life of Bradley Evans, 23. The Jan. 28 fire was the second fire of the school year in which a Berkeley student died. Both fires occurred in single-family homes rented by students.

"Safety is the number one concern in all of our cities. We need cooperation between property owners and tenants," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. "One of the most effective ways we can act is through a strong program of education - knowing what to look for and contacting us when something is wrong."

Others in attendance were Berkeley City Manager Weldon Rucker, Berkeley Fire Chief Reginald Garcia, Oakland Fire Marshal Leroy Griffin, campus Fire Marshal Dennis Mueting and campus housing and student affairs officials.

Among the actions agreed upon Friday were:

  • The campus will undertake a comprehensive fire safety education campaign aimed at ensuring that no student moves into a house that does not have a working smoke detector or accessible exit points.
  • Students will be educated on where to place smoke detectors and which are most effective.
  • Students will be directed to contact local fire departments for inspections if they do not believe their rentals meet fire safety requirements.
  • Oakland and Berkeley fire departments and the campus's fire marshal will explore funding grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to enhance fire prevention, safety and inspection programs.
  • City and campus fire officials also agreed to explore forming a joint effort with other nearby cities akin to the multi-agency fire safety committee formed after the Oakland Hills fire. It would be one way, they said, to keep fire safety in rental homes in the forefront of public attention.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Jonas Jusay, a student at UC Irvine. He has been working to improve fire safety for students since August when a fire in a rented Berkeley house claimed the lives of his 21-year-old sister, Azalea, who was a Berkeley student, and his parents, Francisco and Florita Jusay, who were helping her move in. "When I learned of the latest fire, everything came back. I did not want to have that happen to anyone again," he said.

"There is a simple solution. The first thing I do now when I walk into a house is look for a smoke detector and an exit, a way to get out," said Jusay.

Fire officials said that in multi-family units, such as apartments and rooming houses, smoke detectors are required in every sleeping room and in the hallways and that regular inspections are required. Single-family homes also require smoke detectors, but fire officials are not free to enter homes to inspect them unless requested to or when there is a complaint, they said.

Smoke detectors were present in the recent Oakland fire, said officials, but investigators could not find them in the Berkeley house where some of the windows could not be opened, trapping the Jusay family inside.



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