Fire Safety Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe at College

After 18 years, you can only hope your college-bound child is prepared for the real world, or at least knows how to work the washer and dryer. While moving into a new place for the academic year can be exciting, thoughts on safety precautions usually takes a backseat to loading up dining cards or making sure your kid actually packed proper clothing.

In the past 17 years, more than a third of fatal fires happening in housing on or near college campuses was due to cooking, candles, smoking, or electrical accidents, with 51 victims claimed.

September is Campus Fire Safety Month so here are some tips to make sure your young adult is safe and smart when it comes to preventable fire-related tragedy.

Features that Should Be Included in Housing:

  • Ceiling sprinklers: in 85 campus housing fires that occurred between 2000-2015, not one fire sprinkler was present. They quickly control the situation once a fire starts and are usually found in dorms and newer buildings. Make sure they’re maintained regularly and aren’t just decoration.
  • Smoke alarms— in each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and one on each floor. Bonus points if the alarms are interconnected so they all sound once one goes off. If providing your own smoke alarms, here’s an article on 5 Smart Home Fire Prevention Devices.
  • Be informed on the school’s regulations concerning candles, grills, and appliances
  • Electrical outlets are in working condition and not busted.
  • Doors should have single-cylinder, not double-cylinder, deadbolts.
  • Windows should open easily.
  • A yearly inspection by the fire marshal.
  • Heating system that’s checked annually.
  • Fire extinguishers in easily accessible places.

Two girls cooking in apartment

What Your Kids Can Do to Stay Safe:

  • Test smoke alarms monthly.
  • Never remove the batteries or disable the smoke alarm— this has been a contributing factor in 58% of fatal campus fires between 2000-2015.
  • Learn the building’s evacuation plan and the location of fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and smoke alarm pull stations.
  • Don’t hang stuff on or cover the ceiling sprinklers.
  • Always have 2 ways to escape a room, especially when living off-campus.
  • If the alarm goes off, get out quickly—never assume it’s a false alarm.
  • Don’t opt for the elevator if there’s a fire—always head for the stairs.
  • Drink responsibly and not excessively. Drinking lowers your response time and ability to respond to a fire alarm and get to safety and was a factor in 76% of fatal campus fires between 2000-2015.
  • Know how to use a fire extinguisher using PASS:
    • Pull the pin.
    • Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire from the recommended safe distance.
    • Squeeze the operating lever to discharge the fire extinguishing agent.
    • Starting at the recommended distance, Sweep the nozzle or hose from side to side until the fire is out. Move forward or around the fire area as the fire diminishes. Watch the area in case of re-ignition.

Group of college students sitting on steps

Top Causes of Campus Fires:

  1. Cooking is the cause of about 87% of dorm fires. In fact, over 70% of fires start on weekdays in the evening and on weekends, when kids aren’t in class and are home cooking. Never leave cooking unattended and only cook where permitted. Late night or drunk cooking is never a good idea. For more cooking fire prevention tips, check out how to avoid kitchen fires. If a fire does start while cooking, here’s how to put the grease fire out.
  2. Arson is the second leading cause of campus fires. While some fires may be started intentionally, pranks involving fire can have serious health and legal consequences, and may even result in expulsion.
  3. Smoking is the leading cause of fatal campus fires. Keep it outside and in designated areas with ashtrays. Make sure your cigarette is completely put out before discarding. Don’t smoke when in bed, tired, or drunk. When hosting parties, check inside and under furniture for cigarette butts.
  4. Open flame is the cause of 20% of dorm room fires. Check your school’s policy on open flames and candles. Never leave them unattended and keep them away from anything flammable. Make sure to extinguish them before leaving the room or going to bed. If the power goes out, use a flashlight. The safest bet is to leave the candles at home and opt for flameless ones instead.
  5. Appliance and tech cords can easily overload sockets if you’re not careful. Some schools have regulations on electrical appliances so make sure no rules are being broken. Use power strips with circuit breakers so they can cut power once overloaded and plug them directly into the wall— extension cords should only be a temporary fix. Never cover appliances, especially with flammable material and keep them away from the room’s heat source.

College should be a fun real world experience for your kids; reviewing and practicing fire prevention will keep them safe and informed in the event of a fire.


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