OU to update outdated fire escapes after university review
Sam Higgins, The Oklahoma Daily
AT A GLANCE
Fire Safety in Residence Halls:
Upon the sounding of the alarm: Leave your room, and close your door. Students who do not vacate the building will be subject to disciplinary action.
When the fire alarm sounds, you and all other occupants must evacuate the building and proceed to the designated area until you are notified that it is safe to return to your building.
If you are away from your room when the alarm sounds, proceed to the nearest exit without returning to your room.
Move quickly and quietly to the exit, go to the designated waiting area and wait for further instructions.
Carry a towel in case of smoke. Do not use the elevators. Bring your keys and ID. Wear a coat and shoes.
A campuswide review of fire safety after the accidental death of a student has led to planned updates of dated fire escapes attached to old buildings.
Zoology senior Casey Cooke fell off a fire escape on Evans Hall while climbing down from the roof of the three-story building June 3, The Daily reported in June. She was found dead outside Evans Hall at 2:23 that morning.
Soon after her death, the university found that the fire escape on Evans Hall was unnecessary because the building already had a fire alarm and a sprinkler system, Facilities Management Director Brian Ellis said. The fire escape was removed shortly after Cooke’s death.
Since then, university officials have discussed the nature of other campus fire escapes with the Norman fire chief’s office, deputy fire chief Jim Bailey said.
“We had a few of the fire escapes that were really old and not well maintained — they were really not very secure,” Bailey said. “They were in pretty sad shape.”
Following the removal of the fire escapes on Evans Hall, the university determined that Monnet Hall and Carnegie Hall were the only two other buildings with outdated, external fire escapes, Ellis said.
OU is in the process of updating the current fire escape plans for the two buildings. They have contracted out an engineering firm to draw up plans for updated fire escapes, Ellis said.
Within the next two weeks, the engineering firm will report their plans to the university, and then it will take about a month to build the new fire escapes, followed by a couple of days to install them, Ellis said.
Having old fire escapes accessible to students was greater than their concern for the use of the escapes in an actual emergency, Bailey said. The sprinkler systems in buildings, such as Evans Hall, also have a significant impact in combating fires, he said.
Many of the fire escapes on campus are “legacy” fire escapes — meaning they are in the same condition as when the buildings were built, and new sprinkler systems make them even more outdated, Bailey said. However, they are still necessary on some buildings — such as Carnegie Hall — that lack advanced sprinkler systems or alternate escape routes besides the traditional fire escape, he said.
Outdated campus fire escapes must be rebuilt so they do not provide hazardous access to the roof, so that accidents, such as Cooke's, death can be prevented, Ellis said.
“We certainly didn’t want anyone getting hurt climbing up on a fire escape that has been there for a hundred years or so,” Bailey said.
On Carnegie Hall, the fire escape does not need to go to the third floor because there’s an alternate stairwell that goes from the third to the second floor, Ellis said. The new fire escape will eliminate roof access and also prevent anyone from reaching the fire escape from ground level, he said.
The Monnet Hall fire escape is different from Carnegie Hall’s, because it is an external staircase, Ellis said. Currently, the stairs only come down to a platform eight feet above the ground, so people have to jump from there. In order to make this fire escape safer, the university must put in a set of stairs that can be easily moved so people won’t be able to access the roof when there is no fire, he said.
Apart from updating the fire escapes, the university also continues to install sprinkler systems into older buildings on campus, Bailey said.
Lindsey Ruta contributed to this report.