September is college campus fire safety month

As students return to college campuses across the country, this nationwide effort is celebrating its 10th year of promoting campus fire safety awareness.

According to the Center for Campus Fire Safety (CCFS), “August and September are typically the worst times of year for fatal campus-related housing fires”. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) notes that fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,810 campus-related structural fires annually during 2007-2011. Fires in college-related living quarters occur most often from 5 - 11 p.m. and on the weekends with 84 percent of reported fires involving cooking equipment.

Campus Firewatch, dedicated to improving fire safety at college campuses, began their efforts in 2000 with an electronic newsletter. Then in 2005, they initiated a national campaign asking governors in all 50 states to issue a proclamation designating September as Campus Fire Safety Month. A letter co-signed by parents who have lost children in campus-related fires is sent annually to each governor and the District of Columbia requesting they once again show their support by issuing the proclamation. To date, their efforts have resulted in 265 proclamations as well as resolutions from both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Each year, more governors sign a proclamation promoting campus fire safety awareness. With a goal of having proclamations issues by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Campus Firewatch provides a link on their website with contact information for all current governors should individuals wish to assist in their effort by encouraging their own governor to participate in this campaign.

Campus Firewatch offers an array of resources for those interested in learning more about how to increase campus fire safety. They compile statistics about fatal campus-related fires from a variety of sources on an ongoing basis and publish a campus fire safety information sheet. Last updated April 24, 2014, this fact sheet reports that 166 fatalities have resulted from campus-related fires since January 2000 with 86 percent of these deaths occurring in off-campus housing. Investigators found five common factors in many of these fires: missing or disabled smoke alarms, careless disposal of smoking materials, fires originating on upholstered furniture on decks or porches, impaired judgment from alcohol consumption and a lack of automatic fire sprinklers.

NFPA has developed a fire safety checklist provides students a handy method for making sure they have attended to the most important fire safety details. Smoke alarms, escape routes free of clutter, only one heat-producing appliance (coffee-maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) plugged into a receptacle outlet at the same time, and keeping upholstered furniture and barbeque grills off all porches and decks are just some of the tips for making student housing safer. Students are reminded to be very careful when cooking or lighting candles and to make sure all smoking is done outside using a “sturdy, deep non-tip ashtray”.

Parents of college-age students are encouraged to have a discussion with their children, both those who are heading off to college for the first time as well as those who are returning students, about these important fire safety tips.

Visit the Michigan State University Extension website for additional resources related to home safety and many other topics. If you do not find the specific information you are searching for among the articles posted there, you can search for pertinent publications at the online MSU Extension bookstore, contact a MSU Extension expert, or connect with Extension experts around the country.

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