The Allstate Foundation Family Fire Safety Program Notes College Fire Prevention Awareness

August 31, 2005

A College Fire Scenario: Imagine that you’re in your fraternity or sorority house, sleeping soundly in your room after a long night of studying. Then the unmistakable smell of smoke awakens you from that deep sleep. You try to wake up. In the pitch-blackness of your room, you stumble out of bed. At this point, you literally may only have seconds to save your life.

According to the New Jersey State Safety Council (NJSSC), in less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a raging inferno. Quick: how would you get out? Would you have time to rescue a roommate? Having to think up an escape plan during a fire in a sorority or fraternity house, as well as a college dorm, is not the best time to do so.


— Fires in fraternity/sorority houses are 5 times more costly on
average than those that occur in dormitories.

— Arson is the leading cause of fraternity/sorority house fires;
open flame is the next leading cause, with candles playing a
major role.

— Fires in fraternity/sorority houses peak when the college or
university is in session. Fires also peak on weekends.

— Smoke alarms operate nearly twice as often in
fraternity/sorority house fires than in all residential fires.

New Jerseyans realize that the scenario of a fire in a Garden State college dormitory (or off-campus at a fraternity or sorority house) is all too real. According to the NJSSC, college students could be better prepared to deal with residential fires. Earlier this year, organization officials unveiled the Family Fire Safety Program, a residential fire awareness curriculum.

Bill Margaretta, NJSSC president, reported that the course’s information could be effective in increasing fire safety at Garden State colleges. The initiative, created through a $30,000 grant from The Allstate Foundation, is a train-the-trainer type of program that could be used to train Residential Assistants and others in leadership positions on fire safety. The program was also developed in conjunction with support from the New Jersey State Fire College.

“The key elements for on-campus and off-campus college fire safety are working smoke detectors and sprinkler systems, work fire extinguishers and a proactive fire drill and evacuation strategy,” Margaretta explained. Dormitories or fraternity/sorority houses must also be evacuated during every fire drill and there should be prominently posted escape plan, he added.

Margaretta continued, “I understand that false alarms can be a real pain if you’re a college kid trying to study or complete an assignment and that you might be tempted to remain in your room during a fire drill. But it’s crucial that you, as a college student, evacuate the building every single time.” He added, “The one time that you decide to ride out – what you think – is a fire drill, could be fatal.”

Richard Crist, president of Bridgewater-based Allstate New Jersey, who’s also a NJSSC vice chair, said, “Through The Allstate Foundation, we have promoted safety awareness across the country for years. Because of that fact, the ‘Family Fire Safety Program’ is a perfect fit for The Allstate Foundation here in the Garden State.” He added, “The goal of this innovative fire safety initiative is to supplement the outstanding efforts of fire departments across the Garden State, helping to amplify the resources of those agencies.” Crist pointed out that fires in New Jersey cause millions of dollars worth of property damage each year and take a tremendous toll in injuries and lost lives.”

Officials from the NJSSC noted that, on average, fires in New Jersey cause about $100 million in property damage each year. Annually, about 4,000 Americans die in fires with about 80 percent of the deaths from fire occurring in residential situations – according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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