The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

National program to promote off-campus fire safety

Gov. Bev Perdue gave a speech on the importance of fire safety at the campus residence of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity on Thursday.
Gov. Bev Perdue gave a speech on the importance of fire safety at the campus residence of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity on Thursday.

Against the symbolic backdrop of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, Gov. Bev Perdue pledged her support Thursday to a fire safety campaign targeting off-campus student housing.

The program, called “Help Save a Life, Get on the Truck,” will focus on educating college students about the need for sprinkler systems and smoke detectors in off-campus houses.

Led by the Florida-based Michael H. Minger Foundation, the statewide program is funded by a $60,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security, which was awarded earlier this summer.

The Phi Gamma Delta house burned down May 12, 1996, claiming the lives of five students.

Bonnie Woodruff, whose son, Ben Woodruff, died in the fire, described the situation as a “perfect storm.”

She said it was an “old house with wood paneling and layers of latex paint, a central stairwell that would act as a chimney, big industrial fans in the basement and fathers and sons sharing cigars together.”

There were no fire sprinklers in the house, which the fire chief at the time told her would have saved her son’s life.

“We fought hard to make sure that happened, and in 2001, all the fraternities and sororities on this campus had fire sprinklers,” Woodruff said.

Ed Comeau, a former chief fire investigator and publisher of the Campus Firewatch website, helped the foundation write the grant proposal.

“This fire was a turning point in national fire safety,” he said, adding that there are about 90 fraternity members working with the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

Though the program will focus on N.C. colleges this year, Comeau said it could be implemented nationwide in 2011.

The event was personal for Perdue, whose son was a member of Phi Gamma Delta when the fire occurred.

“I’m a proud Phi Gam’ momma,” she said, adding that she was “scared to death” when she heard about the fire at her son Garrett’s fraternity.

“That day was a life changing experience for all of us,” she said.

Since January 2000, Perdue said 84 percent of students who have died in fires lived off campus.

“I believe this campaign can and will save lives,” she said.

Dylan Castellino, president of Phi Gamma Delta, said the fraternity has been advocating for fire safety since 1996.

“We’ve just been doing everything we can to advocate for fire safety and to make sure that this preventable tragedy never happens again.”

Contact the University Editor at

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for November 20, 2023