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Devastating, Off-Campus Apartment Complex Fire in Whitewater Brings Up Question of Fire Safety

When a fire tore through the off-campus, 107-unit University Garden Apartments in Whitewater last night, some residents were forced to risk injury and jump out of second-story windows. Fortunately, everyone escaped unharmed but now the entire building has been closed and the living arrangements of hundreds of residents, many of whom are University of Wisconsin – Whitewater students, are now uncertain.

“This devastating result certainly would not have occurred had there been fire sprinkler protection in the building as there are in new construction multifamily buildings. Fire sprinklers would have controlled the fire to its area of origin and prevented it from spreading,” says Marty King, a former fire official and current state coordinator for the nonprofit Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA-WI).

The event is clear evidence of how a fire in one section of an unprotected multi-unit residential building can easily become a problem for everyone in the building. It also shows the major toll a single building fire can take on local fire departments, especially when over two dozen fire departments were needed in this case.

“The amount of resources that had to be used for this single fire and the impact it will have on residents is astounding. This fire will have a lasting impact on the community and university as potential long-term shelter and accommodations will be needed. And for those residents who do not have renter’s insurance, they may have lost everything,” adds King.

Since 2011, fire sprinklers have been required in all new construction multifamily housing containing three units and greater, but this was an older building.

“Regardless of age, on-campus housing and Greek housing on Wisconsin college campuses must be protected with fire sprinklers. How can we still allow older, off-campus apartment buildings to go unprotected?” questions King. “The life and well-being of a student living off campus is no less important than one living in on-campus housing, so they should be protected the same.”


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