Connecting with the Community: Studying Campus Fire Safety

By Tom Kiurski

Remind citizens to consider fire safety as they start pack their children up for college. The 2006-07 academic year was the most fatal one on record, as compiled by Campus Firewatch, a group dedicated to making colleges and universities across America fire-safe. There have been 20 campus-related fire deaths in the past academic year, and the total of campus-related fire fatalities since January 2000 until present is an astounding 113. These are young men and women who died while away from home preparing for their future.

Encourage parents to ask college representatives how many fires have occurred on campus in the past year, and find out if the residence halls are equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems, which remains the most effective way of in saving lives from fire. As we in the fire service know, only the sprinkler head(s) closest to the fire will activate, as opposed to the idea of sprinklers the public has based on movies and television. Take a minute to explain the importance of sprinkler systems.

Another necesary life-saving device is a smoke alarm. Hopefully the child’s college has a fire alarm system. If they do not, encourage parents to purchase a battery-operated smoke alarm for their children’s room. These devices are simple to mount (or keep on top of a dresser), and easy to maintain. Parents may need to give their child a call to remind them to change the batteries at least once a year, but having working smoke alarms reduces the chances that a person will die in a fire by half. Make sure the parents have working smoke alarms in their home as well, and test them regularly.

Find out if candles and halogen lamps are prohibited in the dorm rooms. If they are not, they should be. If they are not prohibited, have parents tell their child about the grave dangers posed by these items. Unattended candles can easily find combustibles in small dorm rooms and halogen lamps have bulbs that operate at temperatures more than 1,000°F.

Have parents go over fire alarm procedure before leaving the children to fend for themselves. Find the stairs out of the building and practice using them. Find out where the fire extinguishers are located and make sure their child knows how to use them. Locate the fire alarm system and review how to use it, too.

The families in your community may have a child that is leaving home for an extended period while away at college. If they have not discussed the issues outlined above, encourage them to take a few minutes to do so.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

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