Every year college and university students experience a growing number of fire related emergencies. There are several causes for these fires, however most are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. Cooking is the leading cause of fire injuries on college campuses, closely followed by careless smoking and arson.

In addition, most cases of fire fatalities on college campuses involve alcohol abuse. Unfortunately this link between alcohol and fire deaths is tightly associated. In more than 50% of adult fatalities, victims were under the influence at the time of the fire. Alcohol abuse greatly impairs judgment and therefore significantly hampers evacuation efforts.

There are many causes contributing to the problem of dormitory, fraternity and sorority house fires. For instance:

  • Improper use of the 911 notification system leading to delays in emergency response.
  • Student apathy reducing awareness of the real risk and threat of fire in the environment.
  • Evacuation efforts hindered when fire alarms are ignored, or
  • Building evacuations delayed due to the lack of preparation and planning.
  • Vandalized or improperly maintained smoke and fire alarms preventing early detection.
  • Misuse of cooking appliances, overloaded electrical circuits and extension cords.

All of these causes can be prevented with some modest planning. Here are a few easy steps to help ensure your safety in your dormitory and/or fraternity or sorority house:

  • Know how to call for emergency assistance.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets and make certain extension cords are used properly. Check for frayed or damaged appliance cords, wiring, fuses or breakers. Buy a surge protector if you have a computer at school because the problem of overloading seems to prevail with computers.
  • Do not tamper with smoke detectors or fire alarm systems; be sure batteries are changed every six months.
  • Do not leave candles burning while the room/house is unattended.
  • Map out two escape routes from every room.
  • Make sure that windows can be quickly opened in the event you must exit due to a fire.
  • Overheating, unusual smells, electrical shorts and sparks are all warning signs that household appliances need to be repaired or replaced. Be sure to follow manufacturers’ safety precautions.
  • With proper use, portable space heaters provide warmth and comfort. But space heaters need their space. They are not drying racks or toasters. Keep anything combustible at least three feet from any space heater.
  • Be aware of the dangers from smoking in overstuffed furniture.
  • Keep your house properly maintained as required by state law, and be confidant that university standards are being meet.
  • Any questions, please call the Upper St Clair Volunteer Fire Department at 412.833.0660. We will be glad to assist you in your fire safety and prevention concerns.

In light of the fatal fires that have recently occurred at colleges and universities around the country, it is vital that you as a student follow these precautions to guarantee safety while living in dormitory, fraternity or sorority housing. Ignorance is no excuse. In the 1994 fire at Bloomsburg University, five students were killed after a fire engulfed a fraternity house. The batteries had been removed from the smoke detectors which was a common practice during smoke heavy parties. A more recent fire at Seton Hall University killed three and injured 62. With nearly 33,000 students living in Pennsylvania’s dormitories it is crucial to do everything you can to protect yourself against the risk of fire.