By ALEXANDRIA BACHERT
Whether or not you’re a fan, off-campus frat parties are an unmistakable part of the college experience. Indeed, many of us have taken that well-known trek to a sweaty, cluttered basement in search of some combination of jungle juice and promiscuity. But while the thumping beats and diluted alcohol may temporarily drown out any safety-related concerns, several people associated with Greek life, some of whom asked not to be named, have said that the massive parties they routinely host are major fire hazards.
“I honestly don’t think any functional smoke detectors or fire alarms are installed in our houses,” said Jeff Goldberg, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother. And reports indicate that even at those houses with functional smoke detectors, fraternity members often cover or remove them out of fear that cigarette smoke might set off an alarm and prompt a visit from Ewing police.
“Many party-houses run the risk of a fire with injuries,” said a student volunteer with the Ewing fire squad – and fraternity member – who asked not to be named. “All it could take is one cigarette butt and one couch.”
History has shown that these worries are well-founded. According to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at least 113 fire-related fatalities have occurred on college campuses in the U.S. since 2000, 80 percent of which took place at off-campus residences. Authorities attributed approximately half of these deaths to a combination of alcohol-related negligence and improper fire safety protocol.
So are we at risk? Anyone familiar with the TCNJ ‘scene’ could attest that the same few fraternities regularly host parties at their off-campus residences, the scope of which can range from modestly-sized gatherings of around twenty to widely-publicized bangers of over two hundred. The latter, it should come as no surprise, pose the greatest safety risk.
In monitoring the massive parties, fraternity brothers typically allow attendees access to only one heavily-regulated doorway, concerned that rowdy, underage drunks wandering around their property might attract the unwanted attention of neighbors and law enforcement.
“Most of the time, there’s only one way out of a party,” said junior Kristen Kubilus. “It’s usually so jam-packed that it’s a while before you make it out.”
These parties are one drunkenly dropped cigarette, one circuit overload, or forgotten candle away from wreaking untold havoc. And though fire hazards are not unique to fraternity houses, nowhere else are hundreds of intoxicated college students crammed into tiny spaces with little hope of a speedy exit in the event of an emergency.
“College party-houses essentially run club operations out of buildings designed for residential use,” the Ewing firefighter continued. “And sometimes students do not realize the small but potentially devastating risks.”
When fraternities are taking measures to prevent their own legal culpability for underage drinking at the expense of students’ safety, a serious problem is brought to bear. As a consequence of Ewing Police’s vigorous enforcement of underage drinking statutes, the hosts of these colossal parties are forced to actively obstruct the ability of students to leave in the event of a fire. The result is an all-around dangerous situation, and everyone involved must rethink their respective approaches.
In the meantime, be sure to take a glance around for the party’s nearest exit next time you’re filling up your solo cup.