A community looks back on a tragedy

It’s unfortunate that it took three deaths to bring about change.

A year ago today, three University students died unnecessarily in a tragic house fire. We will never know exactly what caused the fire or exactly what actions by the University, the city of Minneapolis, the students’ landlords, (Jim and Patrick Eichens), or even the students themselves would have prevented the tragedy. But we do know the deaths of Amanda Speckien, Brian Heiden and Elizabeth Wencl were preventable.

The tragedy was also unlikely, and in hindsight, it is easy to act as if the solution was right in front of our faces. In reality, the only way to prevent history from repeating itself is for all the above-mentioned stakeholders to implement precautions.

The one silver lining resulting from the loss of life is that it seems they have.

The University has implemented a listing policy that prohibits landlords who consistently violate housing codes from listing their properties on the University’s housing Web site.

The city of Minneapolis implemented comprehensive sweeps of off-campus housing last year and found appoximately 4,000 violations as of May 3. Clearly, not all of these violations resulted in dangerous situations; but creating an environment where the city and the landlords address housing issues and fix problems big and small makes campus housing safer. The fact that complaints to the University’s Student Legal Service have dropped 90 percent bodes well for students.

Minneapolis has also improved its housing code related to smoke detectors. The revised ordinance requires smoke detectors near bedrooms and on all floors.

Maintaining the smoke detectors, however, falls to tenants. While hearing that obnoxious wail when you burn a pizza is annoying, opening the windows is the solution – not taking the smoke detector down.

We remember the victims and try to prevent future tragedies. Still, it’s unfortunate that it took three deaths to bring about change, a fact no doubt acutely painful to the Speckien, Heiden and Wencl families.