For the fifth time during the semester, a late-night popcorn craving sets off the fire alarm in the freshman dorm. As the groggy students stumble out of the building, some of them wonder why they bother getting out of bed. Frequent alarms can lead to them getting ignored, which is a recipe for disaster.
Every year, fire departments respond to thousands of student housing structure fires at colleges and universities. According to statistics published by the National Fire Protection Association, 87% of the fires are caused by cooking equipment and a majority occur during weekends.1 Some fires cause serious injuries and loss of life, impacting students, families, and campuses. Colleges and universities can take steps to improve safety and reduce the risk of student housing fires both on and off-campus.
Fire safety begins with awareness. Each semester, actively communicate basic fire safety to students, including reminders about how to evacuate and the fire prevention policies that are in place for student housing. As new students descend on campus, make fire safety awareness part of their welcome and new-student orientation. Don’t forget about off-campus housing. Working with landlords can help spread the word about appropriate fire safety practices for students.
Educating students is a great first step to reducing the risk of fires. It is equally as important to have some basic policies in place for student housing. Consider adding the following to existing policies.
To enhance safety, sleeping areas should be equipped with hardwired smoke detectors. This gives an early warning, providing students maximum time to escape. Ideally, student housing will also include a fire alarm system to alert the fire department as soon as possible. Additionally, exit and emergency lighting should be installed in hallways and stairwells. Make sure they are checked regularly so they can be repaired or replaced so they’re in top condition. Finally, sprinkler systems provide an added layer of protection against fire in student housing. If your dorm spaces don’t currently have a sprinkler system, consider budgeting for future retrofitting.
There is a wealth of information available for campus fire prevention. Two great resources for education and tips include the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association.
1. National Fire Protection Association. Campus Housing. https://www.nfpa.org/campus Accessed August 31, 2022.
Posted August 31, 2022.
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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