Deadly San Marcos fire prompts students to think fire safety before school starts

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The deadly San Marcos apartment fire is on students' minds as they get ready to return.

While they're worried it could happen to them, some admit they don't always think fire safety.

"I don't know," University of Houston student Dadi Hamel said. "It wouldn't be one of the questions I ask first. I'd be mainly concerned about how big is the living space? How much is rent?"

University of Houston Fire Marshal Chris McDonald knows most students aren't focused on fires.

That's why he said he is.

"We want students to be here," McDonald said. "We want them to be successful. We want them to be safe."

San Marcos officials said the complex wasn't equipped with sprinklers because it was built before code required them. Officials are also investigating if alarms sounded at the Iconic Village Apartments. A number of Texas State University students lived there, but it was an off-campus facility.

University of Texas and Texas A&M said all of its on-campus facilities are equipped with sprinklers. University of Houston said only one of its on-campus housing option doesn't have sprinklers, and that could change soon.

"Right now, they're in the process of upgrading their fire alarm system and then we've talked to them and they're talking about installing a sprinkler system once that is complete," McDonald said.

McDonald said students and parents shouldn't only focus on sprinklers.

He said before you move into a dorm, or apartment, check for alarms, extinguishers, and reports.

"I'd ask, when was the last time they had an inspection by the fire department," McDonald said. "When was the last time the fire alarm was checked? If there are sprinklers, when was the last time those were checked?"
The Center for Campus Fire Safety said nearly 130 college students have died in a fire over the past 17 years.

The majority of those happened in off-campus units.

The agency said students should also ask if each room has a smoke detector, what fire safety staff receives, and if rooms have enough outlets to meet energy needs.

The Center for Campus Fire Safety has a list of questions for landlords, and schools that students should ask.

"I wouldn't have ever never thought to ask about that because even when I grew-up my parents dealt with all that," University of Houston student Nawal Elsadig said.

An important life lesson that will extend beyond their time in school.
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