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Legislation aims to prevent college fire deaths

Rep. Steve Israel, left, stands with Bobby Fitzsimons,

Rep. Steve Israel, left, stands with Bobby Fitzsimons, who lost his daughter Kerry Rose in a house fire in Poughkeepsie while attending Marist College in 2012, during a press conference in Commack to announce the introduction of new federal legislation to notify students and their families about fire sprinklers in campus affiliated housing across the country. (Jan. 21, 2014). Credit: Ed Betz

Rep. Steve Israel announced Tuesday morning he will introduce federal legislation to prevent fire deaths at colleges and universities nationwide that was inspired by the death two years ago of a 21-year-old Commack woman in a house fire in upstate New York.

On Jan. 21, 2012, Kerry Rose Fitzsimons, a senior at Marist College, died in an off-campus house fire in Poughkeepsie. Also killed were fellow college student Eva Block, 21, of Woodbridge, Conn., and former Marist student Kevin Johnson, 21, of New Canaan, Conn.

"Those deaths may have been preventable," said Israel (D-Huntington) at the Commack Fire Department. "They may have been preventable had there been sprinklers in that house."

Israel's legislation, the Kerry Rose Fire Sprinkler Notification Act, would require colleges and universities to notify students about what kind of fire-safety systems are in their college-owned dorm rooms or apartments and notify them again when they move in.

New York State enacted a law in 2013 that requires all state colleges and universities to notify students if their college-owned housing or dormitory is equipped with a fire sprinkler or fire-suppression system. That law was also named for Kerry Rose Fitzsimons.

Privately owned houses and apartments where students live would not be covered under the proposed law, officials said.

Additionally, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Education to aggregate data on the number and percentage of campus beds with fire sprinklers, using existing annual submissions to the department.

Kerry's father, Robert, attended the news conference and said having the legislation announced on the anniversary of his daughter's death was tough, but added that it is a "great thing we are trying to do."

"I think the more information people have, the better they will be able to safely pick and chose their college housing," he said.

Kerry Rose Fitzsimons, a few months from graduation, had spoken about attending medical school and possibly becoming a physician assistant, her father said. He said she also loved marine biology and music. He spent Tuesday with his family, including his wife, Maryanne, and two daughters, Colleen and Carly.

"We will never forget Kerry Rose and we will never quit fighting until this federal law is passed," Israel said.

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