Starting college can be an exciting time. From picking out fun accessories for your room to meeting your new roommate, there are a lot of things you’ll experience in those first few weeks. Whether you’re living on-campus or off, you may want to brush up on these simple fire safety tips for your new home away from home so you can stay focused and enjoy the school year ahead.
Securing a spot in a great dorm or off-campus apartment might be at the top of your list, but don’t forget to ask the right questions before moving in. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers some tips that you and your parents should consider when looking at a dorm or rental, including verifying there is a working sprinkler system and smoke detectors outside sleeping areas. It’s important to be prepared, since between 2010 and 2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,970 structure fires per year in residence halls, fraternities and sororities, says the NFPA.
Do you know what to look for in a dorm or apartment? There’s more to it than location, location, location. Here are a few fire safety questions from Campus Firewatch to ask your resident assistant or property management staff about your new place:
Do some homework and take a look at the Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security website for details on fires on your school’s campus. Don’t forget to ask about the carbon monoxide detectors, too. In a home, “CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards,” says the NFPA.
Decorating your new dorm room is fun, but are you furnishing with fire safety in mind? There are some things you might need to know before decking out your room:
If you’ll be bringing a laptop and smartphone with you to school, you’ll need somewhere to charge them. And don’t forget the TV and gaming system that you’ll need to plug in, too. You’ll need to consider how you’ll power your electronic devices in your room, because, according to the USFA, overloading electrical outlets can be a fire hazard.
According to the NFPA, you should only plug in one heat-producing appliance into a wall outlet at a time. You should also unplug small appliances after use, including your iron and coffeemaker (if it’s allowed). Don’t forget to take a look at your electric cords and replace any that are damaged or loose, says the NFPA.
Make sure to also use a surge protector, too, especially if you have a computer in your dorm room, suggests the NFPA. You don’t want a surge to fry your computer! Be sure to check with your college to see which type of surge protector is recommended and allowed. For example, Augustana College recommends bringing UL-approved power strips with surge protectors to campus.
You know not to light a candle or burn incense in your dorm, but there are plenty of other fire hazards that may not be so obvious. For example, some colleges and universities prohibit the coffee pot from dorm rooms, as well as microwaves and other small appliances. U.S. News and World Report points out that those items may be considered fire hazards. Consult your school’s residence life policies or the terms of your lease regarding prohibited items, and leave items that aren’t allowed at mom and dad’s house. If you do want to add ambiance to your dorm room, you may want to consider flameless candles, says the NFPA.
While you might think you left fire drills behind in high school, taking part in your dorm’s or house’s fire drills may help you stay safe. You need to evacuate the building immediately when the alarm sounds, says the USFA. Remaining in your room instead of exiting the building when the alarm goes off is not only unsafe, you might also face some consequences. For example, students at Drew University who do not leave their residence hall when a fire alarm goes off may face fines and other punishments. Whenever possible, find at least two ways to exit every room, the USFA suggests.
Cooking equipment accounted for 86 percent of structure fires in dorms, fraternities and sororities between 2010 and 2014, and of those, about 44 percent involved ranges or cooktops, according to the NFPA. There’s more to cooking than simply following a recipe. Here are some tips to help ensure you’re safe while cooking:
Before you cook some macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles in the microwave, make sure you have microwave-safe cookware. According to the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, heatproof glass is a microwave-safe container, while metal pans, foam containers and aluminum foil are among those materials that are not. Also, the National Institutes of Health says to stay near your microwave, especially when microwaving popcorn, as heat can build up in the bag and may cause a fire. If there’s a fire in the microwave, the NFPA says you should “leave the door closed, turn the oven off and unplug it from the wall.” If the fire doesn’t go out, then you need to get out and call the fire department, says the NFPA.
Does your dorm’s floor have an expired fire extinguisher, or is the smoke detector in your off-campus apartment chirping? Be proactive by alerting the appropriate personnel if you are aware of any fire hazards. For example, students at Montana State University Billings can report fire hazards to university police. If you live off-campus, contact your property management staff or landlord about any fire hazards you may see. Don’t forget to purchase a fire extinguisher for your off-campus rental, either. If you need help finding the right type, the NFPA recommends selecting a multi-purpose extinguisher. Take some time to learn how to use the fire extinguisher, too.
How do you report a fire on campus, anyway? According to Campus Fire Safety, you need to get out of the building before calling the fire department.
If you’re planning to do some cooking for you and your friends before the next football game, then look at these reminders on how to stay safe while tailgating. Firing up the grill for some hot dogs and hamburgers? Never leave the grill unattended, and let the coals cool completely before placing them in a metal container, says the NFPA. In addition, follow the stadium’s specific rules regarding tailgating, as there may be restrictions regarding where you can have your party and the proper procedures for cleaning up.
Taking precautions is one thing you can do to help keep yourself safe while at college.