College Campus Safety Series: Part III
September 15, 2017
Welcome to Part III of a three-part blog series on college campus safety! We have already covered what students can do to make themselves safer on campus and things schools can do to keep their campuses safer. This week, we are covering fire safety on campus in honor of Campus Fire Safety Month.
CAMPUS FIRE SAFETY MONTH TIPS
This year marks the 10th anniversary since the month of September was nationally designated as Campus Fire Safety Month. Let’s keep the momentum going and further our fire safety efforts on college campuses across America, especially in September and October – peak months for campus fires.
1. Raise Student Awareness
What causes campus fires in the first place? Typically, it’s a lack of knowledge. Many students are away from home for the first time and haven’t had to be completely self sufficient yet. Of the reported structure fires, 87% began in the kitchen and were more common between 5-9 pm and on weekends, according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).
“As college students settle into housing in dorms and off-campus apartments, it’s important they review fire safety tips to learn how to prevent fires, check smoke alarms and prepare escape plans,” says Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. “Staying in the kitchen when cooking, using flameless candles, and not overloading electrical outlets and power strips are all vital steps to reducing injuries and loss of life.”
It’s been a few years since that first stop, drop and roll lesson in elementary school, so for students who have never actually faced the threat of fire, cooking isn’t the only thing they’re learning for the first time. Conduct regular fire safety training on campus for all students, whether living in on- or off-campus housing.
PRO TIP: Pull out all of the stops and utilize everything from social media, your school’s website, and posters in dorms to raise student awareness on fire safety and scheduled training. Short videos are a great way to catch the attention of young people!
2. Reduce False Fire Alarms
When your fire alarms “cry wolf” too often, they tend to become background noise; if your students, faculty, and staff stop taking them seriously, your problem has just grown significantly when it’s time for a real fire. Take these steps for reducing false fire alarms:
A. Place fire detectors in the right location. When placed too close to kitchens, cooking appliances, locker rooms, and bathrooms, they can be accidentally activated by the smoke or steam emitted by these sources. Consider relocating your smoke detectors, but be sure to hire a professional who knows the equipment and fire code.
B. Purchase the right type of alarm for each location. If your dorms allow personal microwaves (think microwaved popcorn), smoke detectors are liable to go off frequently. In those cases, smoke alarms would not automatically evacuate the entire dorm but, instead, prompt occupants to first verify the situation and then find a pull station (located at each emergency exit) in the event of an actual fire, evacuating the entire building only when necessary. The ultimate fire protection is monitored fire alarms, which are connected to a 24/7 central monitoring center where trained, on-call employees respond to and verify alarms, sending the fire department when needed.
PRO TIP: Self-policing works! UMass implemented a reward system for students who turn in classmates who have maliciously set off a fire alarm.
3. Utilize Video Surveillance to Deter Pranksters
False alarms can also come about thanks to the occasional prankster. When students are not only educated on proper fire safety (e.g. use of kitchen equipment), but also know the repercussions of their shortsighted actions (whether intentional or not), they tend to take matters more seriously. What is your school’s penalty for falsely pulling a fire alarm? Baker College takes the matter extremely seriously with a zero-tolerance policy.
“We’ve had very few pranks because we have so much CCTV,” says Baker’s Director of Campus Safety Tom Pokora. “They know that pulling an alarm will get them expelled from school. The cameras catch everything.” Utilizing 24/7 video surveillance acts as a deterrent for most pranksters and can be used as evidence in court for those who dared to “play with fire.”
PRO TIP: Another good deterrent is fire pull covers, which make a sound prior to pulling the actual fire alarm. With this option comes the need for education so that when there truly is a fire, the person pulling the fire alarms knows it’s now a two step process!
4. Fire Alarm Upkeep, Testing, and Inspections
Since lives are at stake, your fire alarm system must be maintained, tested, and inspected. Plus, multiple nuisance alarms can get costly and your fire alarm will only operate properly if it is maintained. Without proper testing, impairments may not be obvious. Below are a few additional reasons for regular testing and inspections:
- Meet the requirements of your local authority, building department, and fire inspectors.
- Your insurance carrier may reject your claim if you do not have proof of completed inspections.
- Minimize faulty alarms that waste fire department resources. This could put others’ lives in jeopardy and many jurisdictions will charge for multiple nuisance alarms.
- It’s the law, required by the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72, NFPA 10, NFPA 16, NFPA 17).
Armed with this knowledge, preventative maintenance becomes a no-brainer. Opt for annual compliance testing or a complete maintenance package to replace all the major components of your life safety system.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to have your security alarms, CCTV cameras, and sprinkler system regularly tested/inspected, also!
Fire safety is not something you want to go about arbitrarily. Have a plan and a team of professionals in place for full fire protection. We have the experience and knowledge to make your campus safe, as we have many other campuses across the Midwest.
For additional resources on campus security, check out the Center for Fire Campus Safety and the NFPA, both of which teamed up to raise student awareness of fire hazards throughout September and October. And you can always contact us for more information!