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Aug 17
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Where Do People Die

By Ed Comeau

Since January 2000, when Campus Firewatch started tracking campus-related fatalities, four out of five of the deaths happen in off-campus housing.  That is over 80% of the fire deaths.  Why?

Well, no one has done a definitive study, but I have a few ideas.

  • Off-campus housing is, what I would call, tired.  OK, run down.  Beat up.  You know what I mean.
  • Students living off-campus aren't limited by rules in the residence halls such as smoking, candles or alcohol.
  • Those living off-campus now have to cook for themselves...sometimes for the first time in their life!
  • Parties.  More on this in a minute.

OK, let's talk about how a number of the fires have started.

  • At night.  A vast majority of ALL fatal fires start at night when people are sleeping.
  • The smoke alarms have been disabled for whatever reason.
  • A cigarette butt has rolled down into a seat cushion and lies there smoldering until it breaks out in flames.
  • A large number of fires have started in couches on porches and decks.  When a fire starts there, it has time to grow into a pretty big fire before getting into the house through a window.  Almost universally, it is a passerby that sees the fire and raises the alarm.
  • So many of these fires break out after a party when the occupants have been drinking.  What does this mean?  Their reaction time is drastically changed, and not for the better.  A study done of students determined that your ability to respond to an alarm drops SIGNIFICANTLY after just one beer.  The decrease is not as significant (but still there) after more than one beer.  So, the greatest risk occurs after just drinking your first beer.

What can you do?

  • Know two ways out, no matter where you are. Your room, your house, your dorm, a restaurant, a movie theater.  You never, ever know when you will need it.
  • Cigarettes.  If people are smoking in your house or at your party, have lots of ashtrays.  Real ones, not improvised ones like beer bottles or, worse, the trash can.
  • Check the seat cushions before going to bed, make sure a cigarette isn't sitting there.  Don't forget the couch on the porch.
  • Before you go to bed, take out the trash and take it away from the building.  If there is a smoldering cigarette in there, let it break out outside and away from your house.
  • Smoke alarms.  You should have one on every level, outside of every bedroom and, for maximum protection, in the bedroom as well.
  • However, if they aren't working, it doesn't matter how many you have.  Don't ever, ever disable them.

1 Comment(s)

Posted 8/18/2010 3:02:11 PM rmcgee
The problem I frequently see is that not enough students take fire alarms seriously. When building alarms go off frequently (i.e. smoke from cooking) students tend to reduce their importance to the level of background noise. To some of them, a dorm or building evacuation alarm means (*sigh*) that they have to stop whatever they were doing, put on decent clothes, and then go outside in possibly cold/wet/snowy weather until the RA issues the "all clear" signal yet again. (*Sigh*) And these students have much more important things to do, other than "waste time" with yet another false alarm. For these students, I refer them to the lessons learned from the 1980 MGM hotel fire in Las Vegas. 3 1/2 minutes after the fire started, I've read that the flames crossed the football-field sized casino, and reached the street. Hopefully, that illustration changes their attitude. -Rich

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