The Center for Campus Fire Safety: Boston University Student Dies in Off-Campus Fire

In the early morning of Sunday April 28, 2013, a fire broke out in a quiet Allston neighborhood. This fire would claim the life of one Boston University student and would injure two other students and six firefighters. The deceased student was later identified as Binland Lee, a senior studying marine science; she was 22 years old. Lee’s room was located in the attic of the three story house. Due to the size of the fire, suppression crews were unable to reach her.

The off campus apartment, which housed a total of nineteen people according to a Boston Globe report, was virtually destroyed. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, authorities are looking at the perceived overcrowding of the nine room house as a possible contributor to the student’s death. According to a city ordinance, no more than four unrelated undergraduate students may live in the same dwelling. Additionally, officials are attempting to determine whether the spaces, allotted as living quarters, were appropriate for their use. Finally, according to the City’s Commissioner of Inspection Services, Brian Glascock, it appears that the landlord failed to request an inspection of the rented property, which is required by law whenever a rental property changes hands.

This is the latest tragedy that has affected the Boston area, which is still reeling from the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, a sentiment reflected in a statement made by Boston University’s President Robert Brown, “…these have been challenging days for Boston and for Boston University.

The Center for Campus Fire Safety (CCFS) reflects on this tragedy and also wants to remind everyone of the importance of properly installing and maintaining smoke detectors and other fire prevention equipment, in accordance with prescribed codes and standards. But let’s look beyond requirements and ask ourselves what else we can do to avoid potential loss of life from fire.

  • Plan your escape routes – Identify windows and doors, know two ways out and determine an escape route before the fire. Always choose the safest escape route – the one with the least amount smoke and heat. Be prepared to get low under smoke if necessary.
  • Keep escape routes clear – do not allow objects to be stored in halls or stairwells. Make sure windows can be easily opened.
  • Inspect the exterior door at bottom of stairwell. It must be able to be opened without a key from the inside. Door cannot be blocked by snow, cars or other objects.
  • Keep an emergency escape ladder on upper floors. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for the safe use of emergency escape ladders. Only purchase emergency escape ladders evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory. Only use the ladder from upper floors in a real emergency.
  • Choose a meeting place in advance – Pick a highly visible area, a safe distance away from the flames, to meet in case of fire related emergency.
  • Be prepared – Practice your emergency exit routes with each occupant. Practice crawling low to avoid toxic smoke from a fire. Practice feeling doors for heat before opening. Practice opening windows. Practice using an emergency escape ladder from the first floor.
  • Use a portable fire extinguisher only if you know how and can do so safely. Before using a fire extinguisher call 9-1-1 and sound the fire alarm. Fire extinguishers are useful only for very small fires, like those contained in a small waste basket. If the fire is larger that, exit the building immediately.

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