Officials: Fire code violations at local college 'put students at risk'

City manager Doug Paris and a box of files he says contain Livingstone College fire code violations. Photo source City of Salisbury
City manager Doug Paris and a box of files he says contain Livingstone College fire code violations. Photo source City of Salisbury

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - During his comments to Salisbury City Council on Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Doug Paris revealed information regarding extensive fire code violations at Livingstone College.

Violations so serious, Paris said, that they put students at risk.

"Fire code violations very much can contribute to an unsafe environment," Paris told WBTV.  "When a fire door doesn't close and a fire happens, when a fire extinguisher is not on a wall and a fire happens, these are things that can impact immediate life safety."

Paris told council there had been more than 1000 violations and $63,000 in unpaid fines in the last four years.

A letter dated February 28 was sent to the Bishops overseeing the college, and signed by Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell, outlined the violations and called for corrective action.

"I have never seen a facility accumulate so many un addressed violations and a lack of commitment to the safety of its occupants," Parnell wrote.

According to the letter, violations have included failed fire alarms, unsafe locked or blocked fire exits, failure of students to exit during alarms and college representatives not supporting fire safety practices, and "a general sense of irresponsibleness to overall fire safety."

Parnell pointed out that in the last two years the Salisbury Fire Department had responded to 261 fire alarms on the campus.  Of these, 68% were false alarms.

Parnell followed up the February 28 letter with another letter, this time dated March 24.  In this letter, Parnell noted that while officials from the fire department and Livingstone had met over the code violations, but in Parnell's words, "no real progress was achieved."

Parnell further requested to be put on the agenda of the next meeting of the Board of Trustees of Livingstone College in order to discuss the topic.

"I personally implore you to cause a turnaround in the area of campus fire safety before disaster strikes," Parnell wrote.

WBTV has reached out to Livingstone College for any comment on the matter.

Saying he was "dumbfounded and blind sided" by the presentation made at the City Council meeting, Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins responded to the allegations in an email to WBTV late Wednesday afternoon.

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"As president of Livingstone College, my first and foremost priority is to guarantee a safe learning environment for the Livingstone College family. Throughout my tenure, I have worked cooperatively with various agencies, including the Salisbury Fire Department, to maintain compliance with all rules and regulations," Jenkins wrote.

"Having met with Chief Parnell a year ago to discuss the college's work toward maintaining full compliance with all fire codes, I was elated to receive a follow-up letter from the chief complimenting me and my staff for the hard work that we had done to bring our buildings into compliance with the North Carolina fire codes. The Feb. 11, 2013, letter from Chief Parnell was the only official communication to me from his office related to our working relationship. I was, therefore, dumbfounded and blindsided by a letter that Chief Parnell sent to my Board of Trustees, without copying me, to complain about my cooperation with him in addressing fire code violations."

"I arranged a meeting with the chief, pursuant to the letter to the Board of Trustees, and it appeared during the meeting that his main concern was for the college to pay the fines that had been assessed."

"It should be noted that the college has clear documentation showing that various violations for which we'd been cited had been abated. The documents clearly show that all of the areas passed the test. So at the time the City Manager, Mr. Doug Paris, made his presentation to the city council on Tuesday, he failed to acknowledge that the majority of all the violations had been resolved. No one at the college, including me, was given advance notice that this very important matter would be discussed during Tuesday's meeting, and we weren't offered a chance to attend to present our side."

"Unfortunately, the presentation by the city manager to the city council was inflammatory and irresponsible given the fact that the code violations to which he referred, as he described over the past four years, had all been resolved with the exception of fire doors that had been ordered to comply with his ruling that they did not meet code standards. The doors in question were the doors installed when the residence hall was built some four years ago. In previous inspections over the past three years, the doors were not cited to be replaced."

"My pledge is to continue to work cooperatively with the City of Salisbury to meet all rules and regulations and to continue to advance this institution in a positive manner, and I hope that we can move beyond this misunderstanding to a more productive collaboration," Jenkins added.

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