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ASSE Offers Critical Tips for Preventing Campus-Related Fires

Posted in on Thu, Aug 11, 2011

Each year several college students are injured and killed in preventable campus-related fires. In an effort to prevent injuries and fatalities caused by fires that occur in college residence halls, off-campus housing, fraternity/sorority houses, and to raise awareness about life-saving fire prevention knowledge as students head back to school, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE)  Fire Protection Practice Specialty (PS) group is providing free fire prevention and safety information and tip sheets.  These tips and tools for fire prevention and awareness provide students, parents and school administrators with valuable information for identifying hazards, planning an escape route in the event of a fire, fire prevention and more.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) from 2000 to  the present 146 students died  in a combination of off-campus, residence hall and fraternity/sorority fires.  Though a number of student-related fire tragedies occur both on and off-campus, the majority of fatal fires occur in off-campus housing.  According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) out of the 146 campus-related fire fatalities that occurred from January 2000 to the present, 85 percent  occurred off-campus. More than two-thirds of the student population in the U.S. live in off-campus housing, thus it is critical that students are aware of steps they can take to avoid preventable tragedies, ASSE officials note.

During the 2010-2011 academic year, six individuals died in fatal fires, and all incidents occurred in off-campus housing. In May of this year, two Liberty University students in Lynchburg, VA, died in a fire that occurred in a one-story, wood-framed building with no automatic sprinkler system or working smoke alarm. A student at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, was also killed in an off-campus house fire.  Both of these tragedies occurred due to unattended cooking that sparked fires in kitchen areas and rapidly spread throughout the rest of the buildings, according to the USFA

In December of 2010, a fire in an off-campus apartment building in Frostburg, MD, took the lives of two Frostburg State University students.  In addition to lives lost, the fire caused an additional $200,000 in damage to the five-unit building, with a wood stove on the first floor as the suspected cause of the fire.   Also in December, a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, died in an off-campus house fire.

“Campus-related fires are preventable. It is critical that we raise awareness about the importance of fire safety and prevention to avoid the tragic loss of life that can occur with students living on and off-campus,” said ASSE Fire Protection PS Administrator Walt Beattie, CSP, FPS, CSHM.  “Students and parents need to be  aware of dangers associated with fires and how to prevent them now.  They need to know how to react in the event of a fire emergency and have a plan for escaping buildings and alerting fire departments should a fire occur.  Students have their whole lives ahead of them and simple steps can help prevent those lives being cut short. Now, before the school year starts is a good time to learn.

The USFA notes  there is a strong link between fire deaths and alcohol, stating that in more than 40 percent of adult fire fatalities the victims were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fires.  The USFA also notes that in cases where fire fatalities occurred on campus, alcohol was a factor.  Drinking alcohol impairs judgment and slows motor skills, which can hinder efforts for evacuation during a fire.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Fire Deaths and Injuries Fact Sheet, most fire victims die from smoke or toxic gases, not from burns. Smoke inhalation occurs when one breathes in the products of combustion during a fire, including a mixture of heated particles and gases. To help reduce risk of injury and death, residence halls should be equipped with properly operating self-closing doors 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.

There are many steps you can take to prevent campus-related fires.  Simple actions such as not overloading extension cords, power strips or outlets significantly reduce risk.  Cooking safely, avoiding open flames, never leaving cooking unattended and properly discarding of smoking materials are just a few additional ways to reduce the risk of fire.  Students should know where all exits are located in each building and develop a fire escape plan for off-campus housing.  Students living in on-campus dormitories or residence halls should follow all emergency evacuation procedures and participate in all fire drills.  Know how to operate a fire extinguisher, fire alarms and smoke detectors.

ASSE provides free fire safety tips for campus-related fire safety including: Fact Sheet 1 on Statistics and Causes of Campus-Related Fires; Fact Sheet 2 on How to Prevent Campus-Related Fires; Fact Sheet 3 on Fire Escape Planning; Fact Sheet 4 on Fire Safety Equipment for Off-Campus Greek Housing; Fact Sheet 5 on Recent Campus-Related Fire Tragedies; Fact Sheet 6, a Guide for Parents on College Fire Safety; and Fact Sheet 7, a list of excellent resources for fire safety information and tips.  These tools are available at  For more information about ASSE’s Fire Protection Practice Specialty, please visit

Founded in 1911 and celebrating its centennial, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment.  Its more than 34,000 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, healthcare and education.  For more information, please go to and to view the new ASSE – A Century of Safety film go to



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