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Fire Safety for Our Future: Campus Fire Safety

(Appeared in August 2016 issue of The Dispatcher)

marty-kingAs many students and their parents prepare for the trek to college in August, it may signal the first time new students live outside their homes or the first time returning students live in off-campus housing. Before they pack, it is a good time to review fire safety practices and procedures.

For the new or returning students who will live in campus housing, there are a few steps to complete before they arrive on campus. First, they should review the information provided by the college for what is allowed in the rooms. Although colleges may have differing policies, there are a few that are common among most, if not all, colleges. Candles, open-flame devices, halogen lights, hot plates and smoking are not permitted within dormitory rooms. These restrictions are due to lessons learned from past fire incidents. By carefully reviewing the information provided by the college, students and their parents can save money and avoid having to take items back home.

Parents should ask about whether and how fire safety education is presented to new students. Do the staff and students get training in evacuation drills or emergency planning and preparedness? What fire protection devices are installed within the dormitories, academic buildings and athletic facilities? If the dormitories are protected by fire sprinklers, are the students educated about fire sprinklers and living with them?

Many of those questions can be answered prior to arrival on campus thanks to federal legislation. In response to fatal college campus fires, Congress enacted the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act in 2008. This act requires colleges to provide information about the school’s fire safety, applying only to on-campus residential buildings. Colleges must report fire safety policies and fire statistics annually to the U.S. Department of Education and make them available to the public. The report also includes a log of all reported fires in on-campus student housing. The information is usually published within the public safety activity report, which would include crime statistics.

When it comes to off-campus housing, students need to be reminded of fire safety practices that are in place at home and institute the same practices in their home away from home. A common off-campus issue is electrical power. Many universities are located in areas where off-campus housing is comprised of many older apartments or converted houses. Most of the electricity needs of today were not provided decades ago when these residences were built, so there may be insufficient outlets or circuits for the power needed, especially for air conditioners or space heaters. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be checked to assure that they are properly operating and students should be aware of where the nearest fire extinguisher is located. Evacuation planning should be completed and practiced with all occupants. Students should also be provided with fire safety information related to cooking, grilling, candles, smoking, outdoor activities, and electrical fire safety.

Fire officials should be asking for the annual fire safety reports to compare with your incident reporting system and assure all fires are reported. Inspections should be scheduled during the summer for on- and off-campus residential housing to so that all corrections can be completed prior to each new school year. The information gathered from inspections and interaction with colleges will assist fire officials with evaluating risk reduction within the college community.

For more campus fire safety information, please visit National Fire Protection Association, The Center for Campus Fire Safety and Campus Firewatch.

For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please email me or visit National Fire Sprinkler Association – Wisconsin Chapter, National Fire Sprinkler Association, and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

-Marty King, State Coordinator, NFSA-WI


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