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St. John’s dorms use modern fire-safety plan

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A fatal fire at a Seton Hall University dormitory in South Orange, N.J., two weeks ago that killed three students and left five others in critical condition is unlikely to occur at St. John's University, an official at the Jamaica campus said.

The tragedy highlighted the potential dangers posed by student housing built before tougher fire codes required sprinkler and alarm systems.

But Jodi Fisher, a St. John's University, said state-of-the-art fire prevention systems are in place in the dormitories that opened in the fall in Queens.

Fisher said the three dorm buildings have sprinklers in every room beyond what is called for by city code, and the two dorms now under construction will be equipped identically.

In addition to regular fire drills, Fisher said the university has smoke detectors in all rooms and emphasized that they were "not like your detectors at home."

The detectors in the dorms, Fisher explained, are part of an addressable system, meaning there is an electronic dialogue between the control panel and the detector and sprinkler systems. They are "hardwired" into the wall. A central control panel sends out electric pulses to make sure that the detectors are functioning and if any smoke or fire conditions are reported, it registers on a panel in the lobby.

"We also have horns and strobes, which give both audible and visual fire warning," Fisher said. He said the dorms were outfitted with standard equipment such as pull boxes, fire extinguishers and stand pipes on every floor, "so if firefighters have to go upstairs, they have additional hoses available nearby."

In the event of a fire, Fisher said campus security, which operates around the clock, would notify the Fire Department.

No gas ovens are installed in the dorms and students may not bring in hotplates or microwaves, Fisher said. He said the university supplies hardwired microwaves in kitchen areas.

"Students are told not to bring their own microwaves because they're already here," Fisher said.

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