Off Campus Housing Fires Comprise 94% of all College Housing-Related Fires

April 5, 2016

With nearly 18 million students enrolled in colleges or campuses throughout the U.S., and an estimated 12 million living off campus, safety is a concern for parents. The desire to save money and live on one’s own could put students living off campus in harm’s way since an estimated 94 percent of all college-related fires occur in off campus housing, according to a new report released by the U.S. Fire Administration.

The report, Campus Fire Fatalities in Residential Buildings, reviewed data between 2000 and 2015 related to campus fires and fatalities, starting with the Seton Hall University dorm fire that occurred in New Jersey in 2000. According to the agency, the fire caused three deaths and injured 67 others.

Data revealed 85 fatal fires in “dormitories, fraternities, sororities and off-campus housing, resulting in 118 fatalities — an average of approximately seven per school year.”

The report revealed sobering statistics:

  • 94 percent of fatal campus fires examined took place in off-campus housing.
  • Smoke alarms were either missing or had been tampered with (disconnected or battery removed) in 58 percent of fatal campus fires.
  • Fire sprinklers were not present in any of the 85 fatal campus fires.
  • 70 percent of fatal campus fires occurred on the weekend – Friday through Sunday.
  • Males were more likely than females to die in campus fires, accounting for 67 percent of all victims.
  • Alcohol was a factor in 76 percent of all fatal campus fires.
  • 73 percent of fatal campus fires occurred between midnight and 6 a.m.

According to the report, 29 percent of fatal campus fires were caused by smoking, followed by intentional actions (16 percent), electrical (11 percent) and cooking (9 percent). Nearly 18 percent of fires were classified as cause undetermined.

The report noted that April was the peak month (13 percent) for fatal fires in campus housing, with January, May and October at 12 percent each. The summer months reflected the lowest number of fires.

moving, real estate and friendship concept - smiling male friendThe reason most fires occur in off campus housing is due to a lack of control, according to the USFA. Control of student behavior, belongings and strict rules on building fire safety typically make on campus housing safer when it comes to fire risk.

In conjunction with the release of the USFA report, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Campus Firewatch and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have teamed up to promote the See It Before You Sign It fire safety campaign to reduce off-campus fire deaths at colleges across the nation.

The campaign focuses on off campus housing and is aimed at educating both parents and students on potential fire hazards.

“The spring is when students are looking for off-campus housing for the upcoming fall semester,” said Ed Comeau, publisher, Campus Firewatch. “They talk to friends and scour online resources to find that perfect place to live. The only problem is, that “perfect” place may not be the ‘safest’ place.”

Having important fire safety features in the home is often overlooked by students who are more interested in finding housing that is inexpensive, close to campus or provides them with their own bedroom. Parents are encouraged to visit potential housing locations before a lease is signed. If parents aren’t able to be physically present for a housing visit, a virtual tour of the apartment or house is recommended.

The University of Texas-Austin recommends asking a prospective landlord the following questions:

  • When was the last fire marshal inspection?
  • Are sprinklers and fire alarms regularly tested and maintained?
  • What type of fire alarms does the housing have?
  • How many smoke alarms are there?
  • Are portable fire extinguishers provided and maintained?
  • Are there escape routes from each room?

In an effort to keep students safe when living off campus, the city of Cincinnati created the safe student housing program. It offers a database of rental properties that have passed the city’s fire inspection. Participation by landlords is voluntary. If a landlord agrees to participate, the fire inspection is free and if the property passes it is listed on the database for two years.

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