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    March 2012

    Residence Hall Fire Safety Tips

    The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 3,800 housing fires occur at U.S. colleges and universities each year. Cooking causes more than 80 percent of these fires, but only 6 percent of cooking fires spread and cause significant damage. The more serious threat comes from fires that start in student rooms and spread to other parts of the residence hall. Nearly half (49 percent) of these fires are ignited by heat from electrical equipment or overloaded electrical outlets. Another 28 percent are caused by candles, incense, cigarettes, lighters, or matches.

    Proper prevention and training efforts can reduce fires and improve response. UE recommends the following steps:


    • Policies. Policies should prohibit candles and hot plates, require the use of surge protectors for electronic equipment, and prohibit obstruction of sprinkler systems. Include these policies in the student code of conduct and in each student’s room lease.
    • Inspections. Inspect student rooms to ensure residents are abiding by all rules and regulations. Follow up to ensure violations are remedied. Institutions should decide how many inspections will occur each year and reserve the right to conduct additional inspections.
    • Involve fire department. Consider asking the local fire department for help with room inspections to identify fire hazards. In addition, this helps the fire department become familiar with residence hall layouts, which will improve emergency response.
    • Appliance maintenance. Regularly inspect and properly maintain any cooking equipment provided to residents.
    • Fire suppression devices. Make sure all kitchens contain traditional fire extinguishers. Consider installing automatic fire suppression hood systems, which release chemicals when they detect flames over cooking appliances.


    Residence hall staff, including hall directors and resident assistants, play an important role in fire prevention and are usually the first to respond when a fire occurs. Include the following topics in your staff training:

    • Policies. Familiarize staff with all policies related to fire prevention and inform them where to report violations and how to ensure they are remedied.
    • Awareness. Provide staff with materials to raise fire safety awareness within the residence hall community. Materials should include school policies and fire prevention tips such as preventing overload of electrical circuits, misuse of appliances, and the importance of not leaving kitchens unattended while cooking. 
    • Fire extinguishers. Train all residence life staff on proper use of fire extinguishers and when to evacuate instead. Staff should also know where extinguishers are located throughout the residence hall.
    • Evacuations. Outline the staff’s responsibilities during an evacuation and steps to trigger an evacuation.


    Video: “When Every Minute Counts: Dorm Fire Safety”
    Federal Emergency Management Agency: University Housing Fires
    National Fire Protection Association: Campus and Dorm Fire Safety Tips


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