Campus Fire Safety

Fall is the time of year when students start college. It is also the time of year when parents and high school seniors across the country start to look at colleges and universities. Fire safety is one of the things that they should be looking at when sizing up a school. An average of 1,500 fires occur in residence halls and Greek housing each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, which means firefighters respond to campus fires five times a day somewhere in the United States.

Campus Fire Statistics

  • Annually, there are an average of 1,500 fires in residence halls and Greek housing that cause over $9 million in damage each year.
  • In the past 20 years, 43 students have died in Greek and residence hall fires.
  • The leading cause of fires is arson, followed by cooking and smoking.
  • This does not include the untold number of fires that occur in off campus housing, which is where the greatest risk lies according to a number of fire officials.
  • The Center for Campus Fire Safety reports that since January 2000, an additional 51 students have died in off-campus fires, which represents over 80% of the fatalities in student housing.
    • According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 2/3 of the students in this country live off campus.
    • According to the Center for Campus Fire Safety, the common thread in off campus fires includes:
      • Lack of automatic fire sprinkler systems
      • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
      • Careless disposal of smoking materials
      • Alcohol

Campus fire safety Right-to-Know Regulations were recently published. You can download the regulations and read the Department of Education's response on the campus fire safety web site.

Campus Fire Safety Interview Questions for Colleges and Universities

"There are basic questions that parents should ask the person responsible for fire prevention at each school when considering student housing," said Ed Comeau, director for the Center for Campus Fire Safety, who notes that 66 students have died in fires in residence halls, Greek housing and off-campus residences since January 2000. "The answers to these questions can give you an idea of the priority the school places on fire safety."

  • How many fires have occurred on campus in the past few years?
  • Does every room have a smoke alarm?
  • Are the residence halls equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system?
  • How much fire prevention training do the staff and resident assistants receive?
  • How many false alarms have occurred in the residence halls?
  • How often are fire drills conducted?
  • What is the school's disciplinary policy against students who cause false alarms or fail to evacuate when an alarm sounds?

Student Fire Safety Tips

Safety experts recommend that parents encourage their college-bound students to pay attention to fire safety once they've moved into their new residence. "Whether they live in a residence hall, Greek housing or an off-campus apartment, student living areas are overfilled with books, paper, bedding, curtains and clothes that make rooms a fire waiting to happen," said John Drengenberg, manager of Consumer Affairs at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), a not-for-profit organization that tests products for safety. "In this environment, even the smallest spark can be deadly."

Drengenberg said careless smoking, unattended candles and cooking, as well as overloaded extension cords and power outlets, are among the most common causes of fires when students are living so closely together. He also notes that because arson is the number one cause for fires on campuses students not only need to be proactive about fire prevention, but be ready to react if a fire alarm sounds. "Smoke alarms are there to provide you time to escape if a fire occurs," he said. "Students should never disable any smoke alarm or assume any alarm is a prank or false. Whenever an alarm sounds, get out immediately. Fires can spread so quickly that students should understand the difference between safety and tragedy could be just a few minutes, so every second counts."

The safety professionals at UL offer these tips to help keep students safe.

Electrical tips

  • Look for the UL Mark on any electrical product you use.
  • Do not overload extension cords, power strips or outlets.
  • Never staple wires or extension cords.
  • Be wary of cords and electrical outlets that are too hot to touch.
  • Do not connect multiple extension cords together.
  • Do not route cords under doors or carpets.
  • Use light bulbs with correct wattage for lamps.

Cooking tips

  • Cook only where rules allow and pay attention.
  • Never plug more than one high-wattage appliance into a single outlet.
  • Keep surfaces clean of grease.
  • Never pour water on a grease fire. Use baking soda.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher handy.

What if there is a fire?

  • Evacuate immediately.
  • Call the fire department or 911 when you're out of the building.
  • Have an escape plan and know two ways to exit the building from your room.
  • Memorize the number of doors to the nearest exit.

Links for Additional Information About Campus Fire Safety

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