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Special Event

Fire Extinguishers, Alarm System were Working but No Sprinkler System, Says County Prosecutor About Seton Hall University Fire

Aired January 19, 2000 - 12:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now live to a news conference regarding the Seton Hall fire we told you about earlier. This is Don Campolo. He's the Essex County prosecutor.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DON CAMPOLO, ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR: ... fire extinguishers within the residence. Our investigation has determined that these fire extinguishers are inspected every two months. The last inspection date was November 23rd, 1999, and the inspection indicated that those fire extinguishers were in working order.

I would note parenthetically that this dormitory basically was unoccupied except for some university support personal between the dates of November 22nd and January -- December 22nd, I'm sorry, and January 12th of 2000 for the holiday season.

The alarm system within the residence is inspected every month, and in fact it was inspected yesterday and was found to be in proper working order.

With respect to the hoses in house, these had been disconnected from the stand pipe system. Stand pipe system is a system of pipes within the building itself which is capable of delivering water to each floor. The stand pipe system was operating well, and the fire department did in fact use that stand pipe system in its efforts this morning. And according to the fire department they would not utilize any hoses which would be part of an in-house system any way, they would always use their own equipment to connect to the stand pipe system.

The residence itself was first built in 1952, and there were various additions done over the year, the last one, we are told, was done around 1966, and all of this construction activity predated the 1984 requirement in the fire code for sprinklers, So, it did meet the construction standards at the time, but the residence was not equipped with sprinklers.

The other piece of information which I think was sought this morning was whether or not there had been any false alarms reported in the building, and our investigation has revealed that there were 18 such false alarms between September of 1999 and the present. Now, I have attempted to ascertain the answers to most of the questions, and I can entertain some limited follow-up in an orderly fashion.

QUESTION: Why were the fire hoses disconnected.

CAMPOLO: Yes.

QUESTION: Two questions please. First, the hoses were disconnected. Were they disconnected by the university or by some student, and would they have been usable by a student who may have seen the fire early on?

CAMPOLO: Our investigation indicates the hoses of this nature would be primarily utilized or intended to be utilized buy firefighters. However, the practice here would be that the firefighters would use their own equipment in connecting to the stand pipe system.

QUESTION: Follow up, please. If it's determined that a student was smoking and that they -- that caused the fire, would that student possibly face prosecution for the deaths involved?

CAMPOLO: I don't want to engage any speculation here.

QUESTION: Well, is that possible, that scenario?

CAMPOLO: Again, I don't want to get into the realm of what may or may not be possible. I'm trying to deliver facts as I gather them.

Next question please.

QUESTION: How long did it take -- how long did it take the fire engines to get to the university once the fire was reported?

CAMPOLO: From what we understand, the alarm system functioned and notified the university security and the fire department arrived within minutes.

QUESTION: What's the rules regarding smoking in the building and in the rooms?

CAMPOLO: Smoking is permitted in the student rooms but not in common areas.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Compolo, were the hoses there, sir?

(CROSSTALK)

CAMPOLO: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can you confirm why -- well, tell us why there are reports that these hoses were disconnected in the first place? CAMPOLO: Again, my understanding is that hoses of this nature would not be utilized in fighting the fires, that they would be primarily intended to used by firefighters, and since the practice is to utilize their own hoses, these are hoses that might have been there for years, could be subject to dry rot, would not really work effectively in a situation, which is why I understand the fire department uses its own hoses.

SESNO: You've been listening to Don Campolo. He is the Essex County prosecutor. He's come back to answer some questions raised earlier today regarding that terrible fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey that claimed the life of at least three students and injured at least 54 others.

Among the points he made, the fire extinguishers were in working order in that freshman dormitory; the alarm system, just inspected yesterday, was in working order; but there were no sprinklers in the dorm. That, he says, is consistent with the construction codes at the time the building was put up, first in 1952 and then a series of additions, finally the last one in 1966. It was not until the mid- 1980s that fire sprinklers were required in new construction, so no sprinklers there.

The investigation continues at Seton Hall University.

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