Oct. 17 marked 10 years since Daniel Rigby, an MSB senior, passed away due to smoke inhalation from a fire in his townhouse on Prospect Street, triggering various efforts to improve the fire safety standards of off-campus housing for Georgetown students.

The Friends of Rigby Foundation was created in 2006 to advocate for fire safety education. The group provides educational, financial and legal support to college students for the promotion of fire safety and provides smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire inspections in off-campus homes and apartments.

“Our overarching goal, part of our mission statement, is that we want to be the leading fire safety campus resource for students,” Friends of Rigby Foundation President Jay Tedino (MSB ’05) said. “That’s the overachieving goal, that’s how we drive our decision-making process, and so the way we see it is there’s three main ways to tackle that.”

The foundation donates fire safety equipment to the Office of Neighborhood Life each year, according to Tedino. This year, it donated $10,000 worth of equipment, which was raised from donations, proceeds from the Run for Rigby race and the Rigby Ball.

The foundation also provides legal services for students in case of emergency and for general education.

“We are trying to make that easier through lining up the pro bono legal sources that exist, for law firms part of their mission is they have to provide some pro bono legal advice and so that can cover a whole host of issues,” Tedino said. “Georgetown has its own law school, which we’ve been speaking with and looking to make that a resource as well.”

The Georgetown Student Tenant Association has also been active in educating students about their legal rights pertaining to fire safety. GSTA board member Chloe Nalbantian (COL ’15), said that the group teaches students about Basic Business License inspections, which are readily available to all students. BBLs require an inspector to ensure its general safety, which according to GSTA Co-Director Mary Hanley (SFS ’16) is often bypassed by landlords.

“The idea is that an individual who is living in their own home would make their house safe to live in, but of course a landlord might not necessarily make a house they’re renting out as safe as possible because they’re trying to avoid costs,” Hanley wrote in an email. “Since renters don’t have the same disclosure information when choosing to rent that a homeowner would have access to when buying a home, the BBL is the stamp of approval that if you rent this house, you aren’t living in a deathtrap.”

Hanley said that GSTA helps students ensure that their home has been inspected to prevent fires like the one that took Rigby’s life.

“The reason I’m bringing this all up in the context of Rigby is because his death was completely preventable,” Hanley said. “He was in the basement and when there was a fire, he was trapped because the townhouse he was renting wasn’t compliant with safety regulations. If his property had been recently inspected and his landlord had performed all necessary repairs, Rigby very well could have survived the fire.”

Nalbantian said that it is important to get an inspection because landlords are able to renew their BBL by paying a fee and bypassing the inspection process.

“Hardly anybody knows that you can set up a free government inspection of your house to make sure it’s safe without even telling your landlord, and they will come in within a week to do it,” Nalbantian said.

GSTA has also been making efforts to expand such a network for students. When there is something legally wrong in the tenant-landlord relationship, GSTA directs students to Office of the Tenant Advocate, which helps tenants take legal action against their landlord.

“Our big worry at GSTA is that there are still students out there who are living in less than appropriate conditions and aren’t doing anything about it because they don’t know where to start,” Nalbantian said.

Nalbantian and Tedino agreed that landlords are often the root of the problem with fire safety.

“It’s more landlords than anything because you would think that they’re good, moral, ethical people or if they’re in this for the right reasons, such as, to not be a slum lord, somebody who doesn’t put money back into the house and just wants to collect a paycheck,” Tedino said.

Nalbantian said that landlords often forgo safety to avoid extra costs, leaving inexperienced students to face the consequences.

“Students aren’t exactly educated enough to know so it is the partial responsibility of the students to stay educated and know how to take steps to make sure their housing is safe. … It’s definitely not their fault that they are moving into these houses that are not safe, and they don’t know otherwise,” Nalbantian said. “There’s this pressure at Georgetown to scramble for off-campus housing and landlords take advantage of this.”

Tedino said that it is important that Rigby’s passing was not in vain and that there remains an active effort to correct a preventable situation.

“I obviously still miss him like hell; every October’s always a tough time,” Tedino said. “And you play the wondering game sometimes, where would he be right now and where would I be and part of me always wants to thank him just because even though he went in such a tragic circumstance he was still, posthumously, able to be a beacon of light.”

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