Maxim: Are Maastricht’s student houses safe in case of fire?
Last week a student house in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands, burned down. One student was killed and several others were wounded. The mayor of the town has asked for an investigation. How safe are the houses in Maastricht?
“It’s more or less under control”, says John Spijkerman, who works in the Permits, Inspection and Maintenance Department at the Maastricht municipal council. “Student houses with more than five residents are all checked for fire safety and have what’s known as a ‘users license’.” But the municipality is not overly worried about the owners of the houses. The students who live there, he says, cause more problems for fire safety. “They stall their bikes in the hall, leave old paper in the passageways, sometimes destroy fire extinguishers and self-closing doors, and take the batteries out of the fire alarm. In 70 to 80 percent of the student houses we inspect, the fire safety isn’t good because of this kind of behaviour. We have a house in the Jodenstraat where the alarm, the fire extinguisher or other things are broken every two weeks. Very recently the students were given a penalty. If anything bad happens, they have to pay for it.”
“I live with four other students in a house in the Herbenusstraat. It’s a small old building, but very cosy”, says Fransje Pansters, a third-year student of Arts and Culture. “We don’t have fire alarms, but our landlord has promised to put some up in the coming weeks. When he promises something, he does it. There’s an extinguisher in our house and we have two doors to escape from: the front door and the door to our garden. We don’t have bicycles in the hall, but there is some old paper lying there.” Pansters is not too worried. “The girl in Groningen didn’t live in that house; she was a visitor. When the fire fighters hear that there are only five people living there, they won’t search for number six.”
Sanne Piersma, a first-year student of Arts and Culture, lives just across the Belgian border in Vroenhoven. She rents a small apartment with her own kitchen and bathroom in a big building. “It’s luxurious, I know, but it’s also a bit scary. I’ve never seen anything that could protect us in case of fire. No fire alarms, no extinguishers. We have an emergency exit on our third floor, but when you open it, there’s nothing: no stairs, nothing.” She wants to move and is now looking around. “I don’t feel safe. Not only because of the fire safety. Behind our house there’s a lane where people buy and use drugs, and I don’t feel safe at night on the Tongerseweg.”