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A Parent’s Homework: Campus Fire Safety Check

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines

Another academic year has begun across colleges and universities. Seasonal events will bring parents and others on visits to the campuses to see their loved ones, perhaps for the first time since leaving home. This visit provides the perfect time for them to do a fire safety review of the housing.

Most on-campus residence halls provide a safe and healthy environment for students. The installation of fire suppression, detection and alarm systems are now commonplace along with the observant eyes of conscientious residence assistants. However, since the year 2000, 86 percent of campus-related fire fatalities have occurred in off-campus housing where approximately two-thirds of students live. This perilous fire problem exists in off-campus housing where local laws may exist but may not be enforced.

Begin the quality check ensuring that all the windows open easily and are large enough to escape through if necessary. Determine if there are two ways out of each room. Look for interconnected smoke alarms that are less than 10 years old so when they alert, they all do. Look for carbon monoxide alarms too. Encourage your child to test the alarms monthly and to make an escape plan and practice it at least twice a year. If your child is living on a second or third floor, provide a collapsible escape ladder that is long and strong enough to hold him or her.

Equip the house with a portable fire extinguisher, and make sure he or she receives training on how to use it safely. That’s a must! Fire extinguishers are only for very small fires. In the event of a large fire, he or she must leave everything and get out fast. Once outside, call 911 immediately.

Cooking is the number one cause of campus fires. Burning popcorn in the microwave and food left unattended on top of the stove are the major culprits. Electrical fires are another major cause of campus fires; inspect your child’s outlets and power strips to ensure that they are not overloaded.

Candles are popular with college students and are the fourth leading cause of campus fires. Remind your child to never leave a burning candle unattended. NEVER! Buy flameless candles so your child can see that they have a great look, may even have a scent, but are so much safer to use.

Parents and students can learn more about their school’s fire safety. The Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008 requires that all colleges and universities with on-campus student housing publish an annual fire safety report that provides information on campus fire safety practices and standards and contains a fire reporting log. Look for it on the school’s website.

The U.S. Fire Administration encourages parents to look for campus housing with fire sprinklers for their children. Great information about college fire safety including, Good Questions to Ask Before Moving in or Signing a Lease, can be found at http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/college.

Parents’ visit to students’ residence could be disconcerting, but it provides a fire and life safety teaching moment that many haven’t had since a firefighter visited their elementary school. However, your message is clear. You care, and you want to do everything possible to ensure their safety.

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