Fire safety inspections are an inconvenient but critical reality on college campuses. Just one person committing a serious violation — for example, removing the proper signage on “means of egress” — could put the lives of all of a building’s occupants in danger.
Despite their importance, such inspections must be carried out in the most ethical manner possible. This principle is not just to protect students’ privacy, but also to make the inspections more effective.
Fire safety inspections should not be scheduled as they currently are. Right now, it is all too easy for students to hear the loud knocking and inspectors yelling, “fire inspection!” from down the hallway. Students who would otherwise be found in violation of a fire safety regulation can move around objects in their rooms to avoid discovery and the resultant fine.
The current policy also privileges students who occupy quads over those who live in doubles, because there is a higher likelihood that someone will be in a larger dorm when the inspectors come. More occupants in a room means that someone will more likely be in the room at any moment during the day.
I propose an alternative: scheduling inspections when students have class. For example, if a student has a Wednesday seminar from 1:30 p.m. until 4:20 p.m., then the inspectors should come at that time. Fire Safety can independently receive access to the room from the Office of the Registrar.
These steps would lessen the likelihood of a student having the chance to rearrange illicitly placed items. They would also reduce the prospect of a student being woken up by the inspection, or of the inspectors arriving when someone is in the middle of changing.
Inspections can also interfere with students’ studying. Someone could be having a phone call, or a Skype interview at that moment, and the inspection could be incredibly disruptive.
Finally, it is just a bit strange to know that these inspectors can arrive at any moment during weekdays and that they are guaranteed entry to your room — no matter what you may be doing. There is something a bit unnerving that, before planning daytime activities, you must consider the possibility of inspection, even if it only happens a few times a year.
The proposed solution of only scheduling the inspections while the students are in class could require more fire safety staff, as inspections would take longer, since entire floors could not be completed all at once. However, this would be an intuitive use of the money collected from the fines given to violators — and the proposed solution would likely result in more violations discovered, as students would not be able to quickly hide or move objects in violation of the fire safety regulations.
If the goal of fire safety inspections is to stop violations that endanger the lives of the members of our community, then why should we not be willing to spend some more money in adopting a more effective — and more prudent — inspection policy?
Hunter Campbell is a senior politics major from Sunderland, Vt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.