College Fire Safety Guide
It’s that time of the year when dorms are getting cold, and college students are thinking of investing in space heaters. As you prepare for winter, we’ve got some fire safety tips for you so you can remain safe in your dormitory, apartment, friend’s basement… wherever you find yourself living in this season of life!
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), on average, there are over 3,800 campus fires that occur each year with 88% of them caused by cooking fires. Now, a majority of those are related to burning popcorn in the microwave, so our first fire safety tip is to learn how to make microwave popcorn. Got it? Ok, let’s move on.
Another major cause of fires in college dorms and apartments includes overloaded power strips. It is important to know what appliances your college allows in the dorm, and not to plug in too many items into a power strip. And, never plug a power strip into another power strip. Find another outlet.
The last major cause of fires are heat related sources such as candles and space heaters. We’ll touch on each of these major causes with some helpful tips to keep you safe while you study and find your way to adulthood.
Simple Fire Safety Tips for College Students
If living in a multi-person housing situation, choose one where fire sprinklers are installed (i.e dormitories, dorm rooms, campus buildings, and off-campus housing). When you move in, also take note of where the fire extinguishers are located. Because we live in a world where fire code exists and keeps us fire conscious, make note of where the fire extinguishers are located and be sure you know how to operate one.
If you don’t want your personal items being covered in corrosive powder, get yourself a STOP-FYRE clean agent fire extinguisher. It doesn’t leave behind a residue, and its pistol grip makes it very intuitive -- which is essential in the event of a sudden fire.
Make sure you have working fire alarms that are up to code. Never take the batteries out of your fire alarm. It’s there to save your life.
Review with your roommates where to go in case of a fire. That way, should anything happen, you can let the fire department know if everyone is accounted for in the event of a fire. It might be helpful to take note of all possible escape routes, including windows. The more practiced you are in a non-emergency, the more likely you will be to keep your head on in an actual emergency.
For off-campus living, ask the landlord when the heating system was last inspected, or if filters need to be changed. Take note as well if fire extinguishers are provided for you or not.
Cooking Fire Safety
If you are living in an older apartment or dorm, you may find that the kitchen has a gas stove. If you are unfamiliar with how to use a gas stove, be sure to look up instructions, ask an RA, or call a parent before letting gas out all over your apartment. It sounds simple, but we bring it up for a reason. Things happen.
Never leave your kitchen unattended while cooking. You may be tempted to leave the room for just a few minutes while you cook… Avoid this urge like the plague. Remember, the leading cause of fires in colleges is cooking. So, keep an eye on your cooking. It’s that simple.
Don’t plug toasters into surge protectors.
Don’t cook if you are inebriated. Find someone to hold you accountable if you need.
Most on-campus housing does not allow candles. If you live off-campus, check with your landlord for candle usage.
These days, candle holders are not quite as common as they used to be, but if you use them, place candles in sturdy candle holders. And, keep your candles on stable surfaces. Also be mindful of where you are putting candles. Keep them away from flammable objects. If you are leaving a room, extinguish your candles. Do not leave them unattended.
If you have the option, use flameless candles when possible.
Electrical Fire Safety
Never use extension cords with large appliances, especially those that create heat.
Do not overload electrical outlets. We get that dorms and first apartments are small. Find a surge protector if you need, but also make note of things that don’t need to be always plug in. Unplug small appliances after using them. And, never plug a surge protector into another surge protector.
Unplug hairdryers, curling irons, and hair-straighteners when they are not in use and never leave these items unattended in your room. They produce heat, so they can become an ignition source if you are not careful.
Always check with your college and landlord to see what small appliances and electrical items are allowed.
Space Heater Safety
Put your space heater on the floor, and leave it there. You may want it closer to your bed or next to you on your desk, but keep it on the floor. A dusty shelf or paper-filled desk are not the place to put your space heater.
Keep it away from water. This means you can’t keep one in your bathroom. As much as people don’t like feeling cold after a shower, that feeling is better than electrocution. That’s the hard truth.
Leave a three foot clear space around your space heater. Fire needs heat, oxygen, and fuel to live. A space heater is giving off heat, obviously, and a room is filled with air, so be mindful that you are not providing the heater with fuel to start a fire.
Never leave a space heater unattended and do not leave it going overnight. Read the instructions on your particular model to find recommendations for how long it can be left on.
Do not plug your space heater into a surge protector or extension cord.
College is a time for learning -- learning how to be an adult, studying for a profession, finding who you really are away from your parents… It is also a great opportunity to become fire conscious, and in doing so, you could save your dormitory from major devastation.