At least 65 of the Certificates of Fire Inspection posted in buildings across campus have expired. These expired certificates, however, do not reflect the results of the most recent inspections and are currently being replaced by date-free signs in accordance with permission from the municipality.
The Daily Princetonian recorded the locations and expiration dates of any fire certificates reporters encountered across campus, each of which note that the “premises were inspected and found to comply with the minimum fire safety standards as set forth in the State of New Jersey” and contain an “initial inspection date,” a “date issued,” and an “expiration date.” According to Princeton Fire Marshal Joseph Novak, the municipality has issued over 1,000 such certificates to the University.
Title 5, Chapter 70, of the New Jersey Administrative Code states that “Upon completion of a required inspection, the local enforcing agency shall issue a certificate of inspection,” and “The certificate of inspection shall be posted by the owner of the use in a conspicuous location therein.”
All of the 65 certificates that ‘Prince’ reporters came across, which included certificates in Frist Campus Center, lecture halls, academic buildings, athletic facilities, and all six residential colleges, were expired. The oldest of the 65, located in McDonnell Hall, expired in October 2007, and the most common year of expiration was 2017, with 38 certificates having expired that year.
The Uniform Fire Code does not specify penalties for not posting updated fire certificates. Principal Inspector at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Fire Safety Lawrence Wheeler said that because the Code does not specify penalties for displaying fire certificates or displaying expired certificates, these offenses would be considered “general violations,” the penalties for which are set by the local enforcing office.
However, the University “recently received permission from the municipality, which administers the fire code in Princeton on behalf of the state, to replace certificates that had inspection dates in each building with non-dated signs referring people to the inspection records,” wrote Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss in an email to the ‘Prince'.
These non-dated signs, which read “This building is inspected and maintained in accordance with the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code,” inside of a black and orange border, direct people to the University Fire Marshal’s Office to view inspection records. Signs have already appeared in at least three locations, including McDonnell Hall, Lewis Library, and outside of Fine Hall.
According to Novak, this permission came after a meeting with representatives of the University, the state, and the municipality. Because his office issues over 1,000 certificates to the University, with multiple certificates in certain University buildings, Novak explained the difficulty that would come with replacing each certificate yearly. He added that the new procedure will prevent the University from “chasing their tails” when it comes to updating certificates.
“I’m actually pretty glad people notice that stuff. It’s pretty cool,” Novak added, “but I can assure you, you’re in a really safe place.”
Novak said that the certificates are now kept digitally at the University Fire Marshal’s Office, where the most recent inspection certificates are available.
The University is currently in the process of distributing the new signs, which direct people towards these records. Hotchkiss noted that the remaining outdated certificates do not reflect the most recent inspections, writing that all University properties were inspected at least once in 2018 and that “inspections are continuing as usual this year.”