If you're a parent, sending your children off to college for higher education is one of life's most defining moments. For both you and them, it comes with a lot of challenges, memorable moments, tears, and discussions on safety - both personal and otherwise.


college campus


One of the big conversations that is quite often missed, is the discussion parents need to have with their children on dorm safety. Living in a dorm is already difficult as it is since it often entails rooming with hundreds of individuals—each with their own set of routines and behaviors. Dorms are also a breeding ground for some of the most hazardous fire safety concerns, and oftentimes it takes a tragedy to appreciate just how important fire safety awareness is. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, approximately 1,700 fires break out on and off campus collegiate housing each year. Annual fires in fraternity and sorority houses total about 150.


Fire Statistics on College Campuses


  • Between 2011 and 2015, fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated average of 4,100 building fires at dorms, fraternity and sorority houses every year. These fires resulted in 35 civilian casualties every year on average, as well as $14 million in direct property damage.

  • Nearly nine out of ten recorded fires in dormitory-type homes involved cooking equipment (87 percent ).

  • September and October are the most dangerous months for dormitory residences, with weekends and evening hours after 5.00 pm being the most common.

  • In 58% of fatal campus fires between January 2000 and May 2015, smoke alarms were either lacking, disconnected, or without batteries


If not addressed, there's every possibility of a fire in your child's dorm. It happens more often than people realize, and is entirely preventable if the correct information is made known to them as early as possible.

First, it's important to understand the most common causes of a fire in a dorm environment.


Fires caused by candles


Candles are a major fire danger. When placed in the incorrect location, even for a short period of time, they may quickly ignite papers, blankets, and curtains, causing extensive damage or harm. Keep in mind that most dorms prohibit standard candles. If your child still wants to use one, make sure they understand the responsibility and safety concerns.

Never leave candles unattended and keep them out of high traffic areas (such as doorways) where something could knock them over. Also make certain that there's a flame-resistant dish under any candle used in the room. Never burn a candle until the wax is completely melted and never leave a burning candle unattended.


Fires caused by smoking


As per the National Fire Protection Association, almost one out of every three fire deaths in dorms is caused by smoking. Most college students who smoke prefer to do so in their rooms with an open window. But when it's cold outside, many students crack or open their windows, causing smoke to seep into other rooms. About half of all fire alarms are connected to smoke detectors, but these devices are typically disconnected in dorms where students reside for only part of the year, and disconnected by students themselves to avoid accidentally setting off the alarm.


fire extinguisher system


Fires caused by electrical outlets & appliances


Laptops, TVs, microwaves, and hair dryers are among the many devices that students jam into their dorm rooms and flats today. Because each device has its own power supply, each poses a potential fire threat. To minimize this threat, students must know how to use each device safely.

Perhaps the most important fire safety tip is for students not to overload outlets. Most college housing won't be equipped with enough electrical outlets for everyone's stuff, so many students end up using extension cords and multiplug devices (which are convenient but also very dangerous). Extension cords should only be used temporarily, and never under rugs or over carpets. Investing in a surge protector is also a good idea as it shields gadgets from damage that could be caused by a voltage spikes or weather related issues.

Electrical cords should never be nailed or stapled to the wall because it will damage their insulation, causing them to overheat. And if they're chewed by pets, the cord is very likely to start a fire. Students should always dust appliances before plugging them in, and never cover outlets with anything.

Finally, it's important to remember that all appliances such as microwaves (and irons, for that matter) should always be turned off when not in use.


Fires caused by cooking


Most educational facilities have some form of dining halls, meal plans, and other on-site eating facilities that allow students to seldom or never cook while living in the dormitories. In the event or situation that they do have to cook in their dorms, great caution must be exercised.

In most cases, students will have cooking appliances such as toasters and hot plates available. But those appliances which are not being used should always be kept unplugged. This is a major fire safety tip that many just overlook or take for granted. Also, it's important to note that anything flammable should never be left on stove tops (or any kind of cooking surface for that matter) while not in use.

Simply put, students need to be extremely vigilant about placing items on stove tops, ironing boards, and other surfaces when they're on fire or hot.


Fires caused by faulty fire-fighting equipment


engineers are checking fire extinguishers 1


While the faulty equipment is very rarely the cause of the fire, it is on this list because of the extent to which a malfunctioning smoke detector, fire alarm, or fire extinguisher can make the difference between everyone getting out alive or a tragic loss of human life.

  • Fire Extinguishers

First of all, fire extinguishers need to be kept pressurized. If for some reason a fire extinguisher is not pressurized or it has been used, then it should never be re-used as the nozzle might still be clogged and there's always a chance that it will explode. Sufficient training should also be given so that everyone in the dorm from freshmen to seniors know how to use one in the event of an emergency.

  • Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are one of the most significant methods to avoid dangerous and costly fires when they are kept in good working order and placed in the proper areas. To avoid having to deal with their smoke alarms, some college students remove the batteries, but this hinders them from completing their job.

  • Fire Alarms

Lastly, fire alarm panels need to be tested regularly and there needs to be a means of effective communication between the station and station point. Also, it's important to remember that maintenance on all equipment must also be done regularly and that new cables should be installed when necessary (rather than splicing old ones).


To summarize:


  • Before moving in, ensure that your dorm building or off-campus housing has a properly operating smoke alarm and sprinkler system.

  • Ask the landlord or college facilitator to regularly inspect the fire alarm control panel installed in the building. If possible, get in touch with the manufacturer to service the panel regularly.

  • Never turn off a smoke alarm or any other fire safety device. If the smoke alarm is blaring because the battery is low, replace it or have it changed as soon as possible.

  • Check your room and communal areas for fire dangers on a regular basis. Also, double-check that escape doors and windows are in good functioning order.

  • Understand how to use the 911 system to quickly call the department. Many campuses dedicated numbers for campus-safety and fire. Make a note of them in case of an emergency.

  • Always engage in fire drills and rehearse escape routes and evacuation procedures, and take every alarm seriously.

  • Keep an eye on your school's fire safety regulations. In a dorm room, there should never be any open flame, including candles and smoking.

  • The most common cause of dorm fires is cooking. Learn how to correctly use, maintain, and store appliances, and never leave any open flame unattended.


Note: While fire prevention is extremely important for all educational facilities, this article focuses on colleges and universities. The information can be applied to high schools as well, but the extent and severity of potential fires and other situations might differ.