Headed to College? Consider These Safety Tips

Tour dorms to locate fire exits and review other emergency procedures.

Whether you are an incoming freshman or a returning student, you’re probably getting ready for the upcoming fall semester on campus. Besides figuring out who’s buying the fridge or futon, you should be thinking about safety, too.

Many colleges have received grants to make necessary upgrades with regard to built-in fire and security protection. This year, I’ll have two of my own kids attending college at Michigan Tech University and Northwood University. I can assure you that we’ll be taking a tour of the dorms and learning where the exits are, where they can find a portable fire extinguisher, and what to do when the alarms sound.

This all seems like common sense, but when you ask a college student any of these questions, the typical response is “huh?” Each and every student needs to know what to do in a true emergency. Armed with just a little bit of knowledge, they can feel safer if there is ever an emergency situation in their dorm.

Some of the main contributing factors for dorm fires and fire fatalities on campus include:

  • A lack of an automatic fire sprinkler system
  • Disabled or completely missing smoke alarms (Having a working smoke alarm more than doubles the chance of survival.)
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Arson
  • Cooking incidents
  • Alcohol consumption (There is a strong link between alcohol and fire deaths. In more than 50 percent of adult fire deaths, victims were under the influence at the time of the fire.)

Every student needs to review campus safety hand-outs to see what’s permitted in their rooms; restrictions may differ from one college or university to the other. Also, here are some precautions every student should take:

  • Know the campus emergency services phone number. Typically, it is 9-1-1; but some phones may require that additional numbers be dialed as well.
  • Be sure your room has a working smoke alarm.
  • Familiarize yourself with the dormitory and know at least two escape routes from your room.
  • Urge resident advisors to conduct fire drills and review evacuation plans, and take them seriously.
  • Do not use halogen lamps, and do not overload electrical outlets. Try to eliminate or limit the use of extension cords.
  • Know how to properly use and maintain permitted cooking appliances.
  • The use of candles and incense is highly discouraged and may not be allowed in your dorm.
  • Keep doors closed to eliminate the travel of smoke and fire.
  • Never use an elevator in a fire emergency.
  • Know where the closest portable fire extinguisher is and know how to use it.

Never pass off a fire alarm as being false. Get up and get outside, until a public safety official or fire department says it’s clear to move back inside. This sounds like an inconvenience, but wouldn’t you rather be outside if there’s a fire inside? It’s not rocket science, folks!

Although loss of life in dorm settings is relatively low, the need for continued education efforts and increased safety awareness among everyone on campus will reduce the odds of a disaster at your school. The bottom line is, don’t take your safety for granted - practice safe habits in your dorm and around campus!

Lieutenant Denny Hughes is a fire and safety educator and a 30-year veteran of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department. He may be reached at 248-871-2823 or at DHughes@fhgov.com.


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