Fire code problems force SAE out of house

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had a no-occupancy sign posted on their house for several days before and during spring break. Photo by Tessa Armich.

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The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had a no-occupancy sign posted on their house for several days before and during spring break. Photo by Tessa Armich.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had a no-occupancy sign posted on their house for several days before and during spring break. Photo by Tessa Armich.

Right before spring break, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity had to move out of their chapter house because of a no-occupancy notice from the Peoria fire department.

The fraternity had a party March 5, and the fire alarm went off because a non-student guest was smoking a hookah in one of the rooms. According to BUPD chief Brian Joschko, an officer investigated the alarm when she saw the fire department was not dispatched.

Joschko said the problems they witnessed include a person smoking a hookah in the house, people weren’t evacuating when the alarm was ringing and that someone had been tampering with the smoke detector.

“We had three issues, but the one that pushed it over the top was that when the officer got there and told people they had to leave, there was a female in there who was not affiliated with the university who said she didn’t need to leave and that we weren’t the real police,” Joschko said. “She was escorted from the building, and we turned over the report [to the fire department].”

On March 8, an officer met with the fire inspector, who then tracked down the student involved and brought him to the BUPD station for questioning.

SAE president James Beiderbecke said a BUPD officer and the fire inspector took him out of one of his classes.

“A police officer and Brad Pierson, the fire inspector, walk into the [classroom] 10 minutes into class and … I had to pack up my bag and everything … it was so awkward because the teacher just stopped talking, just silence,” Beiderbecke said. “They patted me down for weapons. They took my pen out of my pocket, my phone, put it all in my book bag, which they carried. They escorted me to the police cruiser, which is parked outside Baker Hall … and took me into one of the interrogation rooms.”

Beiderbecke said he didn’t understand why they did this instead of calling him into the station, if they knew his class schedule.

After interviewing him, the fire department gave two citations, one to Biederbecke for reckless endangerment and one to the fraternity for failure to monitor the house with a 24-hour fire watch.

“The reasoning behind this was when I ran into my room and saw [my friend] smoking a hookah, and saw it was going off – to be honest, I was drinking a little – I looked at the fire detector and, it was a stupid thing to do, but I got up on my couch and unscrewed it, and it didn’t even stop,” Biederbecke said. “So, that’s where the reckless endangerment [comes in].”

Beiderbecke said the police report made it seem like he knew someone was smoking in his room and purposely tried to cover up the fact that the fire alarm went off. Beiderbecke said that wasn’t the fact.

Fraternity and sororities at Bradley are inspected by the fire department once a semester for anything that could potentially pose as a safety or fire hazard. During the February inspection, SAE passed their inspection but had some items they needed fixed, such as the fire box not being connected to the fire department.

“During their inspection, they had several violations, and some of them were more of a serious nature that needed to be addressed right away,” Pierson said. “That fraternity in question had been working with us for close to eight months to try to fix a particular issue, but it would just never get repaired. They had an incident that precipitated us giving [the no-occupancy notice] because they didn’t fulfill their end of the agreement on doing fire watch.”

Beiderbecke said the fraternity had been struggling to get their telephone company, which connected their firebox to the fire department, to send someone to fix the malfunctioning equipment.

“Now, where this is a huge headache is this whole semester, our housing corporation, straight up threatened to sue Vonage because they refused to send a technician out to fix this issue,” Beiderbecke said. “It’s been this whole semester up to this point, [and] it [was] an elongated process.”

SAE is not the first fraternity to have issues with fire codes or be issued a no-occupancy notice, according to Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life Nancy Schwartz.

The fraternity members were not left without a place to live, however. The university provided housing at the Elmwood Hall singles apartments.

The no occupancy was removed Monday of Spring break, however, Pierson said there are still some issues the fraternity needs to fix.

“During the inspection, they still had some violations that needed to be corrected, but it wouldn’t prevent them from staying in the house,” Pierson said.