Each year college and university students, on- and off-campus, experience hundreds of fire-related emergencies nationwide. There are several specific causes for fires on college campuses, including cooking, intentionally set fires, and open flame. Overall, most college-related fires are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. According to information complied by Campus FireWatch, the great majority of student fire deaths occur in off-campus housing that lacks insufficient exits, missing or inoperative smoke alarms, and automatic fire sprinklers. Also, use of candles, careless smoking habits, and the misuse of alcohol—which impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts —contribute to off-campus housing fire deaths.
As the Fall semester approaches, colleges and universities are busy preparing for the arrival of new residents to their campus communities. Some will be first year students moving into the residence halls. Other arriving students will be moving off-campus and living on their own, some for the first time. For most of these students, the last fire safety training they received was in grade school; but with new independence comes new responsibilities. It is important that both off-campus and on-campus students understand fire risks and know the preventative measures that could save their lives.
Learn the facts about campus fire safety and be fire-wise!
Campus-Related Fire Fatalities from January 2000 to Present
||Percent of Total
Annual Number of Fatalities by Academic Year
Source: Campus Firewatch (PDF, 153 Kb, Adobe Acrobat Help)
Safety Tips for Students
- Cook only where it is permitted.
- Keep your cooking area clean and uncluttered.
- If you use electric appliances, don't overload circuits.
- Never leave cooking unattended.
- If a fire starts in a microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the unit.
- Learn About Cooking Fire Safety »
- If you smoke, smoke outside.
- Make sure cigarettes and ashes are out. Never toss hot cigarette butts or ashes in the trash can.
- After a party, check for cigarette butts, especially under cushions. Chairs and sofas catch on fire fast and burn fast.
- Be alert - don't smoke in bed! If you are sleepy or have been drinking, put your cigarette out first.
- If you have to escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.
- Before opening a door, feel the door. If it's hot, use your second way out.
- Use the stairs; never use an elevator during a fire.
- If you're trapped, call the fire department and tell them where you are. Seal your door with rags and signal from your window. Open windows slightly at the top and bottom; shut them if smoke rushes in from any direction.
- If you have a disability, alert others of the type of assistance you need to leave the building.
Off-Campus Fire Safety
Good Questions to Ask Before Moving in or Signing a Lease
- Are working smoke alarms installed? (Preferably in each bedroom, interconnected to sound all if any one detects smoke)
- Are there at least two ways to exit your bedroom and your building?
- Do the upper floors of the building have at least two interior stairs, or a fire escape?
- Is a sprinkler system installed and maintained?
- Are the existing electrical outlets adequate for all of the appliances and equipment that you are bringing – without the need for extension cords?
- Are there EXIT signs in the building hallways to indicate accessible escape routes?
- Does the building have a fire alarm system installed and maintained?
- Has the buildings heating system been inspected recently (in the last year)?
- Is the building address clearly posted to allow emergency services to find you quickly in the event of an emergency?
- Does the sprinkler system or fire alarm system send a signal to the local fire department or campus security?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are approximately 18,000,000 students enrolled in 4,100 colleges and universities across the country. Approximately two-thirds of the students live in off-campus housing.
There are four common factors in a number of these fires:
- Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
- Missing or disabled smoke alarms
- Careless disposal of smoking materials
- Impaired judgment from alcohol consumption
Off-Campus Fire Tragedy: Julie Turnbull
Doug and Linda Turnbull lost their daughter, Julie, in an off-campus house fire one month before her 22nd birthday and college graduation. Watch the Video on Campus Firewatch
On-Campus Fire Safety
In cases where fire fatalities have occurred on college campuses, alcohol was a factor. There is a strong link between alcohol and fire deaths. Alcohol abuse often impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.
Many other factors contribute to the problem of dormitory housing fires including:
- Improper use of 911 notification systems delays emergency response.
- Student apathy is prevalent. Many are unaware that fire is a risk or threat in the environment.
- Evacuation efforts are hindered since fire alarms are often ignored.
- Building evacuations are delayed due to lack of preparation and preplanning.
- Vandalized and improperly maintained smoke alarms and fire alarm systems inhibit early detection of fires.
- Misuse of cooking appliances, overloaded electrical circuits, and extension cords increase the risk of fires.
Safety Precautions for Colleges and Universities
- Provide students with a program for fire safety and prevention.
- Teach students how to properly notify the fire department using the 911 system.
- Install smoke alarms in every dormitory room and every level of housing facilities.
- Maintain and regularly test smoke alarms and fire alarm systems. Replace smoke alarm batteries every semester.
- Regularly inspect rooms and buildings for fire hazards. Ask your local fire department for assistance.
- Inspect exit doors and windows and make sure they are working properly.
- Create and update detailed floor plans of buildings, and make them available to emergency personnel, resident advisors and students.
- Conduct fire drills and practice escape routes and evacuation plans. Urge students to take each alarm seriously.
- Make sure electrical outlets are not overloaded and extension cords are used properly.
- Learn to properly use and maintain heating and cooking appliances.
On-Campus Residence Hall Fire: The Dana Christmas Story
On January 19, 2000, a fire occurred at Seton Hall University that killed three freshmen. Dana Christmas was a resident assistant at the building where the fire broke out. Watch the Video on Campus Firewatch