College Fire Safety 101: Staying Safe on Campus

college fire safety

College Fire Fast Facts:

  • Between 2007 and 2011, fire departments across the United States responded to an average of 3,810 structure fires in dorms, fraternities, sororities, and barracks each year.
  • Fires in dorms are more common during the evening hours, between 5–11 pm, and on weekends.
  • About five out of six dorm fires are started by cooking.
  • The combination of working smoke alarms and fire sprinklers reduces the likelihood of dying in a fire by more than 82 percent.

Seton Hall University fire

Just last week, Seton Hall University held a special mass remembering the young lives lost in the tragic dorm fire that devastated its campus fifteen years ago. Three students died, and nearly sixty others were injured. On January 19, 2000, Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore set fire to a third-floor lounge area in their freshmen dorm after a night of drinking. Both men pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to five years in prison. (although many believe their punishments should have been far more severe). The fire  caused millions of dollars in property damage. It also destroyed the lives of the victims and their families.

Tragedy turns to learning

The tragedy turned out to be an instrumental learning experience for universities across the nation. Within six months from the accident, New Jersey passed historic legislation that required all state colleges and high schools to install fire sprinklers. The Seton Hall fire also inspired the Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act. This is an amendment to the Higher Education Opportunity Act that requires all educational institutes to display fire safety information and statistics.

University fire laws

Since then, many other states have adapted the similar legislation. Illinois passed a law requiring all public and private post-secondary educational institutions to install fire sprinkler systems in their dormitories by 2013. Governor Rod Blagojevich justified the new legislation saying, “As parents, we shouldn’t have to worry that our college students might be killed in a dorm fire when something as simple as a sprinkler system could save their lives.” Furthermore, in 2011 Illinois also passed the Greek Housing Fire Safety Act. This requires all fraternities and sororities to install automatic fire sprinkler systems by 2019.

Future protection of students

 These were all significant advancements in college fire safety. Unfortunately, there has still been 89 fatal college fires across the country in the past 15 years. These injured 126 students. Moving forward, it is important that higher education institutions in all states continue to make fire safety a priority. Parents and students also need to make informed decisions when visiting and selecting schools to attend. Schools that do not have fire sprinklers installed to protect their students should not be considered.

According to the USFA, “the most effective fire loss prevention and reduction measure for both life and property is the installation and maintenance of fire sprinklers. Fire sprinkler systems offer the greatest level of fire safety because they control the fire immediately in the room of origin. They also help limit the spread of fire, and often extinguish the fire before the fire department arrives.”

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For additional information regarding fire safety on college campuses, check out the following resources: