Fire Chief: IUP’s New Suites Present Safety Risks

By Elizabeth Kundla

INDIANA– Andrew J. Koutsavlis, a sophomore studio art major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is a resident of the Putt Suites, one of the new dormitories in the campus’ $270 million Residential Revival project. He had to live on campus because his parents gave him no other choice

“My parents wanted me to live on campus again this year,” he said during an April 15 phone interview. “I get to live off campus next year.”

But when it comes to fire safety in the new suites, neither Koutsavlis nor his parents have given it much thought.

“Fires aren’t something I think about,” Koutsavlis said. “I don’t think about how safe the building I’m living in is. I don’t really expect fires to happen.”

Koutsavlis said he only thinks about fire safety when a fire detector in a room down the hall keeps going off.

“It’s been beeping three times a week for the last two weeks,” Koutsavlis said. “The residence assistant on our floor was there once and said not to worry about it, that the police would take care of it. If a fire ever did break out, I’d be unprepared.”

Koutsavlis said his parents were unaware of fire safety in the suites, as well.

Julie A. Cacurak, 21, a senior political science major, has lived on campus for three years and resides in the Maple East Suites. She has given fire safety some thought. And she is concerned.

“I am worried about fire safety in the suites,” Cacurak said during an April 28 phone interview. “Everyone jokes around about it saying stuff like, ‘If the suites ever caught fire, the whole place would go up in flame.'”

Cacurak’s concern for her safety started around December when she noticed a safety cap was still on the smoke detector in her room.

“When I moved into my room in the fall, I didn’t even notice it,” she said. “But I had friends over, and they noticed the bright reddish-orange cap on the smoke detector and told me that if a fire would ever break out I’d never know.”

Cacurak said she has one semester left at IUP and plans to spend it living off campus because of her now mindful concern about the suites’ fire safety.

Students living in the new residence halls may appreciate the new beds, living rooms, private bathrooms and separate bedrooms. But they may not see the fire-safety concerns that Cacurak and others have noticed.

Indiana County Fire Chief John M. Colananni also took notice during a tour of the suites last year to oversee their construction.

“They have sprinkler systems, but the sprinklers will only help out so much,” Colananni said in a Feb. 26 phone interview. In case of a fire, “When we get there, we’ll have our hands full.”

Colananni said the suites’ sprinkler systems are “only the bare minimum.” He and the fire department are “quite concerned,” he added.

“They’re very nice from the outside and the inside as well,” Colananni said. “But if a student forgets to clean out a dryer lint trap, those suites are going up in flames.”

University officials were asked to comment on Chief Colananni’s concerns. Michael Lemasters, director of IUP housing and residence life, was “unavailable.” University spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling had a schedule conflict.

Chief Colananni contrasted the traditional dormitories with the new suite-style residence halls. In the suites, only the stairwells are built with cement and steel, he said.

“The old dorms were made of brick,” Colananni said. “If they caught fire, there was little damage. God help us if the suites ever catch fire.”


Sidebar: Fast Facts

For More Information on fire safety and the suites, contact the following sources:

Michael Lemasters
Director, Housing and Residence Life
Associate Dean of Students
Office of Housing and Residence Life
Suites on Maple West B37
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705

John M. Colananni
Indiana County Fire Chief
Indiana Fire Association
White Township Station
1555 Indian Springs Road
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Station: 724-465-2024

Michelle Fryling
Media and Public Relations Office
Sutton Hall, Room 314
Indiana, Pa 15705

Andrew J. Koutsavlis
Putt Suites
Phone: 412-496-7819

Julie A. Cacurak
Maple East Suites
Phone: 724-664-7563

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