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American Society of Safety Engineers Offer Students Tips to Prevent On and Off Campus Fires

Posted in on Mon, Oct 5, 2009

Des Plaines, IL (October 5, 2009) — In an effort to prevent injuries and illnesses in fires that occur in college residence halls, off-campus housing or fraternity/sorority houses and to raise awareness of life-saving fire prevention knowledge during Fire Prevention Week, which runs October 4 – 10, 2009, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) and the ASSE Fire Protection Practice Specialty (PS) offer free fire prevention and safety tip sheets.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 3,570 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks in 2003-2006. These fires caused an annual average of seven civilian deaths, 54 civilian fire injuries and $29.4 million in property damage. Most of these fires were caused by the use of cooking equipment.

“Every year we hear of repeated tragedies involving college students injured and killed in fires. Many of these deaths are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention,” said ASSE Fire Protection PS Administrator Frank Baker, CSP, CFPS. “Although many college residential fire incidents occur off-campus, they involve students nonetheless and point out the need to be aware of the risk of fire and how devastating the results can be in any situation where many persons occupy a single structure.”

Though a number of student-related fire tragedies occur both on and off-campus, the majority of campus fires occur off-campus. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), out of the 135 campus-related fire fatalities that occurred from January 2000 to the present, 113 occurred off-campus. On January 23, 2009, three International Business College students in Fort Wayne, IN were killed in an off-campus fire in an apartment complex used to house students for the college. On May 21, 2008, a Tompkins Cortland Community College student was killed in an off-campus fire near Ithaca, NY. On August 2007, a Bradley University student died in an off-campus house fire; the building was not equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system. In 2006, an off-campus fire that started in a plastic container used for discarding smoking materials took the life of one Cornell University student and injured another.

“Students and parents should plan and ask questions about fire safety when moving into on or off-campus housing,” said Maureen Kotlas, CSP, CPEA, member of the ASSE Fire Protection Practice Specialty and director of environmental safety at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD. “Students should always follow safe practices and realize the role of alcohol in fire fatalities. Behavior as well as planning and asking questions, are all factors in preventing on and off-campus fires.”

The USFA notes that there is a strong link between fire deaths and alcohol–stating that in more than 50 percent of adult fire fatalities, the victims were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fires. The USFA also states that in cases where fire fatalities occurred on campus, alcohol was a factor. Drinking alcohol impairs judgment and can hinder efforts to evacuate during a fire.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Fire Deaths and Injuries Fact Sheet, most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases, not from burns. And, according to the USFA, smoke inha¬lation alone accounts for 40 percent of residential building fire injuries. Smoke inhalation occurs when one breathes in the products of combustion during a fire. Combustion results from the rapid breakdown of a substance by heat, burning. Smoke is a mixture of heated particles and gases.

With that said, each residence hall should be equipped with properly operating doors with self-closers that are not propped open; clearly marked exits; corridors that are kept clear and are not blocked; heating and ventilation systems that are routinely inspected and repaired for any deficiencies; and properly operating fire alarm and extinguishing systems, where required.

On August 14, 2008 the Higher Education Opportunity Act was signed into law (Public Law No: 110-315), which includes language requiring colleges that maintain on-campus student housing facilities to provide information on campus fire safety practices and standards to the U.S. Department of Education. The data reported should include: the number of fires and the cause of each fire; the number of injuries and deaths related to a fire; the value of property damage caused by a fire; a description of on-campus student housing fire safety systems; the number of regular mandatory supervised fire drills; policies or rules on portable electrical appliances, smoking, and open flames, procedures for evacuation, and policies regarding fire safety education and training programs provided to students, faculty, and staff; and plans for future improvements in fire safety, if necessary.

On and off-campus fires can be prevented by implementation of sound fire safety activities such as not overloading extension cords, power strips or outlets; cooking safely; avoiding open flames, and; correctly discarding smoking materials. Injuries and fatalities can be avoided by developing a fire escape plan; having and knowing how to work fire extinguishers, escape ladders and fire alarms and detectors; as well as knowing where exists are located. ASSE is providing free fire safety tips on statistics, prevention tips, fire escape planning, fire safety equipment for off-campus and Greek housing, information on recent incidents, a parents guide to fire safety: what you need to know when your child leaves home for college, a list of key resources, and an on/off campus fire safety flyer. These are available at under on/off campus fire safety tips.

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members lead, manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor, health care and education.

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