City 'deeply concerned' about fire code violations; Livingstone president 'blindsided' by accusations

SALISBURY — Fire code violations and false alarms at Livingstone College have become such a problem that Salisbury officials are threatening to shut down campus buildings if the college does not take immediate action.

“I have never seen a facility accumulate so many unaddressed violations and a lack of commitment to the safety of its occupants,” Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell wrote on Feb. 28 to the college's board of trustees.

In the past four years, Livingstone has had 1,023 fire code violations and accumulated more than $63,000 in unpaid fines, City Manager Doug Paris told City Council Tuesday. In the past two years, 68 percent of the 261 fire calls to Livingstone have been false alarms, Paris said, tying up fire units, costing money and disrupting traffic.

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, Parnell said. The college currently has 39 violations.

While President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins has been cordial, the college has made “no real progress,” Parnell told the board of trustees.

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

Jenkins said he was dumbfounded after learning about the presentation to City Council and blindsided by accusations that the college was not cooperating.

Jenkins said Livingstone has worked diligently to eradicate fire code violations.

“As president of the college, clearly my first priority is to make sure the students are safe and the campus is safe,” he told the Post. “Whatever we have been asked to do, we have attempted to do it.”

The college failed a re-inspection in March, Paris said. Violations included missing, damaged and malfunctioning fire doors at two dormitories and exposed wiring.

Paris, who displayed a large box containing files related to the college's fire code violations since 2010, said he had hoped to resolve the issue by working with college administration.

Instead, Paris said he and Parnell will ask the board of trustees to adopt several new policies designed to keep the campus up to fire code and address the rate of false alarms.

Councilman Pete Kennedy, a Livingstone graduate, pointed out that most of the college's violations have been corrected.

Jenkins said the college had resolved all but six code violations when officials re-inspected the campus on March 24 and showed the city invoices for new fire doors that had been ordered. He called the City Council presentation inflammatory.

“The record shows clearly that we have worked cooperatively with them to make this happen,” he said. “The only thing we have not been able to do is pay the fines.”

Jenkins said before Parnell contacted the board of trustees, the last communication he had was a Feb. 11, 2013, letter that praises Jenkins.

“We appreciate the hard work you and your staff have put in to get the buildings on your campus in compliance with the North Carolina fire code,” Parnell wrote.

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