Writer: Sarah Block, Marketing Director at The Moran Group
In 1976, five fraternity brothers were killed in a fire in the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Baker University. In 1977, ten women were killed in an inferno in a dorm fire at Providence College. In 1996, five students died at a Phi Gamma Delta fraternity after someone carelessly tossed a cigarette. As recent as 2007, six students from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University died in a shared house fire. From 1990 to 2000, 8 fires in dormitories resulted in 10 student fatalities and 11 fires in Greek housing caused 23 deaths. All of these fires started from carelessness. Students are free for the first time in their life, and some are not prepared for the responsibility that living independently requires.
In recent years, attention has been brought to the need for fire protection in dorms, fraternities, sororities, and other forms of student housing. On September 2, 2014, the Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Act met its deadline. Since then, schools are fined $1,000/day for non-compliance. Colleges and Universities have been complying; however, focus has turned to the increase in off-campus housing and the rise in fires at these dwellings.
How are student housing fires starting?
The NFPA has reported that alcohol consumption in conjunction with cooking, smoking, or any other task is a major contributing factor in fires. An NFPA Report showed the following trends:
Cooking equipment is the top cause of fires in dorms and Greek housing. This cause of fire is becoming even more prevalent because more and more dormitories are adding kitchens. They are becoming more like small apartments than the dorms of the past. The apartment-like dorm trend is providing an opportunity for more fires. However, colleges and universities are required to have fire sprinklers installed in dorms. So, although, more fires are starting in dorms - dorm fires have increased 18% from 1980 to 2011 annually - they are less deadly because of the fire protection provisions put in place. In fact, 92% of fires in dorms or Greek housing don't have flame damage past the point of origin with fire sprinklers in place. Unfortunately, many students are choosing off-campus housing that does not have regulated fire protection. These are the students who are dying in fires.
How do I protect myself from a student housing fire?
When your student is choosing a place to live during college, for the first two years of college, it is ideal to live in an on-campus dorm. They are fully-sprinklered, have regular fire drills, and have supervision to reduce fire risky behavior and to control the situation in case a fire does ignite.
When it is time to move off campus, choose a housing solution that has wet-pipe fire sprinklers. Property damage is 65% lower when wet-pipe sprinklers are present and reduce injury or death by fire by over 80%. In addition to fire sprinklers, make sure to install smoke detectors and to change out the batteries every Day Light Savings.
Be smart about cooking. It is the top cause for fires in student housing. Students need to only cook where it is permitted and when they are alert.
When you live on campus, your dorm will have a fire escape plan, but it is equally important to have a fire escape plan when you live in off-campus student housing. Make sure there are two ways out of every room, and that students leave immediately when the detector alerts.
College students are vulnerable. They are living away from home for the first time, and don't always know the dangers of that responsibility. It is the obligation of the school and parents to make sure that their student is in a safe environment and are educated on what to do to prevent fires and what to do if a fire were to occur. Keep students safe; set them up in sprinklered student housing.