ASHEVILLE –The city fire crew that has been staying in a new student housing complex at the University of North Carolina Asheville since classes opened in August has left after changes were made to improve fire safety in the buildings.
University officials agreed to keep the firefighters and their engine on site 24 hours a day as a precaution after the state Department of Insurance declared the five new residence halls that make up The Woods unsafe. Among the concerns was the location of a standpipe and valves in the stairwells that fire inspectors said could force people fleeing the building to climb over fire hoses.
In an email to the campus community late Tuesday, UNC Asheville Chancellor Nancy Cable wrote that changes to the pipes were completed last week and approved by the Insurance Department and the State Construction Office, which oversaw construction of the buildings.
According to the agreement the university worked out with those two departments Aug. 17, Cable wrote, “it is no longer necessary for UNC Asheville to accommodate the Asheville fire engine and personnel, and there is no further need for the 24-hour fire watch in The Woods residence halls.”
Cable said another concern raised by fire inspectors — the lack of fire sprinklers in the attics of the five buildings — is also being addressed and that the sprinkler systems should be completed in late November.
The four-story wood-frame buildings that make up The Woods offer apartment-style housing with full-size kitchens to as many as 294 sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They were completed in mid-August, and students had already begun moving in when the Insurance Department declared them unsafe on Aug. 16.
After a long day of negotiations, the university and the two state departments agreed to keep firefighters on site while the standpipes were modified, allowing students to move in before classes started Aug. 20.
UNC Asheville agreed to pay the city fire department $2,500 a day to pay off-duty firefighters to stay at The Woods with the engine. At a press conference in August, Cable said the university decided it was better to pay that cost and let students live in the dorms rather than put them in hotels.