Campus Fire Safety


Contact: Ed Comeau, DirectorCenter for Campus Fire 413-323-6002 (tel)[email protected]

Fires at the University of Vermont, Alabama A&M, and Chico State are Harsh Reminders of the Need for Improved Campus Fire Safety

AMHERST, MA A series of fires have struck at campuses across the country within the past week. A Saturday morning fire at an Alabama A&M residence hall forced two women to leap from the fourth floor, injuring both students. This fire was followed by one on Sunday evening at the University of Vermont that caused the evacuation of over one hundred students. Another fire at Chico State in California broke out last week on the top floor of a high-rise dormitory and was caused by a candle. Electrical fires occurred at the University of North Carolina and the University of Minnesota.

Since January 2000, 74 people have been killed in student housing fires across the nation, reports the CCFS. All of these fires underscore the need for improved fire safety at our nation’s campuses and calls to attention the types of questions that parents need to ask when looking for housing, according to the Center for Campus Fire Safety, a non-profit organization dedicated to the safety of college and university students across the country.

“Many parents make assumptions about the level of fire safety being provided in residence halls,” said Ed Comeau, the director of the CCFS. “As recent fires have so graphically demonstrated, there are gaps in fire safety that need action to protect the students living in these buildings.”

Comeau said that in response to recent fires such as the one that occurred in March in a women’s dormitory at Rust College in Mississippi that damaged seven rooms, HR 128, the College Fire Prevention Act, has been introduced by Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH) and Congressman Curt Weldon (PA). This legislation will assist schools in installing automatic fire sprinkler systems.

“These life-saving systems will help to ensure that fires do not take the lives of America’s future as we have seen at the University of North Carolina, Seton Hall and other schools over the years,” said Jones. Added Weldon, “Without a doubt, an automatic fire sprinkler system throughout the building would have been the most effective protection against this fire from spreading. Recent fires demonstrate how close we are and how quickly we must act to avoid anymore tragedies from occurring.”

In addition, to help prospective students and parents research fire safety information, the CCFS has partnered with the Princeton Review and developed a survey that gathers fire safety information from schools across the nation. This information is available on Princeton Review’s website at Comeau encourages parents to actively learn more before selecting a school. “There are basic questions that parent’s should ask the person responsible for fire prevention at each school when considering student housing,” said Comeau. “The answers to these questions can give you an idea of the priority the school places on fire safety.”

These questions include: How many fires have occurred on campus in the past year, two years, five years? How many students have been injured or have any been killed? How much dollar loss have these fires caused? This should be ALL fires, not just those reported as arson.Are residence halls equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system? If not, why not? Sprinklers provide that vital first line of defense when it comes to controlling a fire.Does every student’s room have a smoke alarm? Does it send a signal to campus security of the fire department? Fire alarm systems will give everyone the warning that there is a fire and it is time to get out.How many false alarms have occurred in the residence halls? False alarms cause students to stop paying attention to the alarms, which can be a fatal decision. False alarms ARE avoidable.Is the fire department IMMEDIATELY notified whenever ANY fire alarm system is activated? Some schools investigate the alarm first and then notify the fire department. This delay can put more people at risk. The fire department should automatically be notified of ALL alarms.Are smoking, candles and Halogen lamps prohibited in the residence halls? Smoking is a leading cause of fires in residence halls.Does the school have policies that electrical appliances and power strips be certified as safe and reliable and are UL listed? Overloaded power strips can cause fires.How much fire prevention training does the residence hall staff receive? These people are key components in an effective fire safety program.How often are evacuation drills conducted? There should be at least one per semester.What is the school’s disciplinary policy towards students that cause false alarms or fail to evacuate during an alarm?Does the school provide fire extinguisher training for the students? This list of questions, and additional information, can be found at the Center for Campus Fire Safety’s website at The Center for Campus Fire Safety is a non-profit organization that is devoted to reducing fires at campuses across the nation through education and advocacy.