Residents of the Greek Village were taken by surprise when the fire marshal showed up at their houses last week and made up for lenient inspections in years past.
Fire Marshal Charles Russ and a crew from Residence Life went into all the houses in the Greek Village and took decorations off the walls, moved furniture and threw out piles of garbage as part of an annual fire code inspection.
Several residents of the Greek Village were outraged at what they considered a violation of their rights when they found strangers in their houses and rooms throwing things away and tearing things down.
“Just a bunch of guys came in our house and started taking stuff down,” said sophomore Stephanie Gottlieb, the property manager for the Alpha Delta Pi sorority house.
Many residents were also upset that they were not told when the fire marshal would be coming.
“They’ve given us warning, but they’ve never been like, ‘Oh, we’re coming in the house tomorrow,'” Gottlieb said.
Kelly Best, assistant director of Residence Life, which is in charge of maintenance and facilities, was with Russ for most of the inspections. He said the students were given some warning, but added that the fire marshal doesn’t have to give advance notice of when specifically he will be performing an inspection.
Compounding the confusion of this year’s strict inspections is the leeway that has been afforded to the houses in the Greek Village since it opened three years ago.
“Because it was a ‘house,’ if you will, (the fire marshal) gave a liberal interpretation of some of the parts of the code in order for the residents in there to make it feel more like a house,” Best said.
That “liberal interpretation” came to an end with this year’s inspection.
One contributing factor could be the May 29 fire in Holly F that, according to a University Police report, caused an estimated $200,000 in damages.
Best said that while the stricter interpretation of the codes was not a direct result of the fire in Holly F, it could have played a part.
“When there is a fire, individuals start to get a little bit more alert,” Best said. “There’s no question about that.”
But according to both Best and Russ, the difference this year was the flagrant violations encountered in the houses. Those violations led to an explicit interpretation of the codes during the inspection.
Russ said many hallways were filled with piles of solid garbage, which obstructed the hallways. Per fire code, hallways must be clear of obstructions to ensure a clear escape route.
Part of the fire marshal’s “liberal interpretation” of the code was allowing residents to keep some furniture in the hallways, such as couches and coffee tables, as long as it was confined to small open areas on the sides of hallways and didn’t obstruct the path of escape.
Best said many houses had taken advantage of this allowance and had piled random things in those areas.
“Now you’re storing combustibles,” Best said. “It’s turned into a storage room instead of a sitting area.”
Best said many houses had examples of blatant fire code violations.
“In front of the exit, in one case, was an ironing board with an iron on it,” Best said. “If the fire bell were to have rung, you wouldn’t have been able to get out. That’s just dumb.”
Along with furniture being taken out of hallways and moved to storage rooms, the crew from Residence Life cleared the hallways of piles of garbage.
However, according to residents, the crew was indiscriminant and threw out more than just garbage.
“They were just throwing away stuff that was in our hallways,” Gottlieb said. “One of our sister’s pots and pans that she had in the hallway, because she’s moving into an apartment soon, got thrown away – taken to the dumpster.”
Neither Best nor Russ said they were familiar with the specific example, but both said that many houses had hallways so filled with garbage it was hard to discern what was garbage and what was not.
Another point of contention for some residents is the issue of lofted rooms. In many houses, rooms were remodeled and transformed from regular rooms to lofted bedrooms.
According to Russ, the way the rooms are set up could block the sprinkler systems from functioning properly in the event of a fire.
“We had problems with some of the lofts (last year), but they told us how to fix it,” Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house resident Rodel Beredo said. “But now they’re saying that all of the lofts have to be down.”
Residents of the Sigma Phi Epsilon house said they were given until today to tear down the elaborate carpentry work that doubles the living space of their rooms. They also said they were told if the lofted beds weren’t down by today, the rooms would be condemned.
“A lot of people spent hundreds of dollars buying wood and materials for these lofts to loft their beds, and now they’re telling us to tear it down,” Beredo said.
Best and Russ said they knew nothing about threats of having rooms condemned, but Russ said he would be back on campus today to check the rooms and then determine his next step.
Residents were also upset that their composite portraits were taken down. Composites are large portraits with pictures of every member of an organization from a single year. All pictures not bolted to the walls were removed.
According to Gottlieb, now is one of the worst times for the sorority house walls to be made barren because it is recruiting season.
“We have girls coming through our house for recruitment and we’re trying to impress them and everything,” Gottlieb said. “So it sucks because now it looks like a jail cell.”
Russ finished going through the rest of the houses in the Greek Village Friday, but said he would be back to follow up his inspection today.