Each year at this time, students are leaving home to attend colleges and universities. Often, these eager young people, many of whom are away from home for the first time, move into residences that can be hazardous to their health.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), September and October are the peak months for fires in college housing. Fires are most common in the evening hours between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. and on weekends. About 70% of reported fires begin in the kitchen or cooking areas with equipment causing three-quarters of these fires.
Bedroom fires caused 27% of injuries and 21% of property damage in about 7% of the total fires. There are several reasons for these fires, however most are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. Causes include arson, cooking and the lack of attention or the misuse of appliances, alcohol abuse which often impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts, careless smoking and the improper disposal of materials, the lack of automatic fire sprinklers, the incorrect use of 911 notification systems which delays an emergency response, apathy as many students are unaware that fire is a risk or a threat in the college environment, rescue efforts which are hindered when fire alarms are ignored, the delay of building evacuations due to the lack of preparation and preplanning, overloaded electrical circuits and extension cords, and vandalized or improperly maintained smoke detectors.
The Orange Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following information to help reduce and prevent the loss of life and property in university housing and off-campus fires. Look for fully sprinkled housing when choosing a dorm or off-campus housing since having a working smoke alarm more than doubles one’s chance of surviving a fire.
Be sure the dormitory or apartment has smoke alarms in each bedroom, outside all sleeping areas and on each floor. Test all alarms monthly and never remove batteries or disable alarms. Cook only where permitted and never leave a hot stove unattended. Perform a “home inspection” for cleanliness and for fire and safety hazards.
Check cushions on couches and chairs for smoldering cigarettes. Thoroughly extinguish and dispose of smoking materials. Keep candles 12 inches from anything that can burn and put out lit candles and incense when unattended.
Know two ways out of every room (including classrooms). Learn and practice the building’s evacuation plan. Be informed as to how to notify the fire or other emergency departments by using 911 or other local numbers.
If you’re caught in a fire situation, survival is the top priority. Feel the door handle and if it is not hot, open the door carefully and check for smoke or fire before leaving the area.
Do not hesitate to leave. Close the door as that may keep the fire from spreading. Do not take time to gather belongings or to stray from the exit route. Knock on doors and yell “FIRE”. Crawl low to the floor. Thick smoke can make it impossible to see and toxic chemicals can be deadly. Pull the fire alarm on the way out of the building.
Phone 911 when safe. If the handle is hot, do not open the door. Get someone’s attention by screaming and hanging a sheet from the window. Stay low to the floor to avoid poisonous gases. Call for help, if a telephone is available.
If you have any questions regarding fire safety, please contact The Orange Fire Marshal’s Office at 203-891-4711, Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:30, or visit Station #2 at 355 Boston Post Road. Smoke and CO alarms are available and free to Orange residents.