With the holidays approaching, colleges and universities will be preparing for a very dangerous time of year. The mass exodus from dormitories leaves plenty of chances for fires to start in unoccupied rooms. Even though they are given explicit instructions, relying on students to take the proper fire safety prevention steps before leaving campus is foolish.
Just look at the past. There have been too many blazes that have affected schools before. For instance, the Providence College fire of 1977 that began because of a lamp directed at a manger scene as part of Christmas decorations. Almost 20 people were either killed or injured in that fire. Or more recently, the Seton Hall University fire in January of 2000. Three students were killed and 58 students were injured when the fire began in a lounge and quickly spread.
Even today, there are approximately 4,000 fires on college campuses every year causing roughly $26 million dollars in property loss. So what can be done to prevent fires from affecting our colleges and universities when classes are not in session? Follow these simple guidelines on what to look for when conducting inspections:
Test smoke alarms
The simplest and probably the most needed prevention tip anyone on a college campus can and should perform during a vacation inspection. Even though many schools have moved to a smoke free classification, students will always look to circumvent the rules. Disabling a smoke alarm is a simple way to do that. Unfortunately it also removes the first line of defense in fire safety technology.
Make sure sprinklers have not been tampered with
Whether intentional or not, sprinklers can be tampered with quite easily. Students are usually very creative in decorating their college dorm rooms with paint, posters, tapestries, bottles and bottle caps… Any of these could lead to inadvertent impairment of a sprinkler system. Conduct a thorough investigation of any sprinklers to look for damages or possible malfunction.
Check all remaining holiday decorations
The Winter Holidays are known for decorations. Make sure any decorations are turned off no matter whether they are plugged in to a wall socket or battery powered. Lights generate heat that can become an ignition source when mixed with combustibles
Unplug every outlet
Hopefully students will have already abided by this general rule before you arrive for inspections. But odds are they will have not. Check all electrical sockets and make sure every single one is empty. Many schools will shut off the power to campus buildings during vacation periods of zero occupancy. Devices or appliances left plugged in may overload when the power is restored.
It is also a good time to look for extension cord that may be overloaded with too many products. This is a potential fire hazard that will last the entire school year if not addressed upon the students return from vacation. Other items like hot plates, George Forman Grills, or Rice Cookers are all common ignition sources that can be routinely found in college dorm rooms. They should be confiscated if banned by your institution.
Following these simple guidelines will diffuse any potential problems before they happen. For more important fire safety tips like these or information on fire protection systems, check out our blog.