Wired glass education comes to Capitol Hill

Greg Abel, chairman for Advocates for Safe Glass of Eugene, Ore., said that a North Carolina college student’s untimely death last February could have been prevented if impact-resistant glass had been specified for a window in his dorm.

Keith Smith, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, died after crashing through a large wired glass fire-safety window in a high-traffic hallway at the dorm.

Abel dedicated a Sept. 14 Capitol Hill symposium on the dangers of wired glass to Smith’s memory.

“There is a misconception that wired glass is a safety glass,” Abel said before the group of about 20 industry representatives, insurers and lawmakers.

Abel and six other presenters led the Washington, D.C., symposium, Safety in Our Nation’s Schools, with one overriding theme: education.

School administrators, architects, building officials and fire officials need to understand the dangers of wired glass, because it is weaker, breaks more easily and causes much more severe injuries, said Democratic state Sen. Vicki Walker of Eugene. “This nation is in a new school building era,” Walker said. “We’re going to be able to ensure our schools of the future are safe, as long as we get the education out there.”

In 2002, Walker pushed legislation through the Oregon legislature that bans wired glass from educational facilities, gymnasiums, athletic facilities and commercial structures in the state. In 2003, she helped change the International Building Code to prohibit use of wired glass in schools and athletic facilities.

Walker and other speakers noted that the codes continue to allow wired glass in college and university buildings and other public places such as libraries.

However, Thom Zaremba, an industry consultant based in Toledo, Ohio, warned that more legislation and regulation effectively banning wired glass in more locations is not the answer.

“Just like virtually any other product, wired glass is completely safe when used in appropriate building applications,” Zaremba said. “Wired glass is still one of the most reliable products available to protect building occupants from fire and suffocating smoke while exiting a burning building.

“Given the great number of glazing products currently on the market, however, I agree that educating product specifiers and others to match the right glazing product with the right application is important,” Zaremba said.