The National Fire Protection Association claims that the majority of fires that occur in the home are caused by cooking, and it is these fires that cause the majority of fire injuries. The majority of fire deaths in the home are caused by smoking and heating equipment. Fires on college campuses follow a similar trend. Nearly 90% of campus fires are caused by cooking, and the remainder are caused by power strips, candles, space heaters, or are set intentionally. Fires can often be prevented, and by following the guidelines below, you can keep yourself and your belongings safe.


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Knowing Your Surroundings

The first step in fire safety is knowing what safety measures already exist in your dorm or apartment. Dorms must have fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems installed. Though waking up to a 3:00 a.m. fire alarm because someone decided to make popcorn is definitely annoying, you are safer for it. Living on campus is the easiest way to know that your home is up to fire code, since your school will routinely check your smoke detectors and fire alarms for you. Be sure to know where the fire alarms and fire extinguishers are in your building, in case you’re ever a first responder. Then, provided you participate in mandatory fire drills, you’ll be good to go in case there ever is a real fire.

If you live off campus, make sure that your apartment or house is up to fire code before you sign the lease. Older homes, in particular, may not have all the safety measures that are now required by law. Check to make sure that your apartment has smoke detectors (and test them to make sure they work). You may also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector (you can buy them at stores like Target), especially if your home or apartment is connected to a gas line. Buy a fire extinguisher, and know how to use it, just in case.

In case of fire, regardless of where you live, you need to have at least one alternative exit from your home or room besides the front door. Plan an exit strategy. If you live above the first floor, consider buying a fire ladder that you can use to climb out a window in case a fire blocks your normal exit.

Preventing Fires

  • Do not leave appliances plugged in when they are not in use.
  • Do not store personal items on or under radiators. Likewise, do not cover up heating or air conditioning vents. Curtains and wall decorations should not impede the flow of air and should not rest on top of a radiator.
  • Be careful with candles, incense, and other open flames (these are banned on many college campuses).
    • Never leave the room while there is an open flame.
    • Keep all open flames at least one foot away from anything flammable.
    • Burn candles and incense in holders that are made for them, not directly on a table or other surface.
  • Do not cover up or tamper with smoke detectors.
  • Do not hang anything on the sprinkler system.
  • Do not leave the kitchen when you are cooking.
    • Do not cook when you are under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication.
    • Keep flammable items and liquids away from the stove.
    • Smother grease fires. Water and grease do not mix and pouring water on a grease fire will cause it to spread.
  • Do not use hot plates or electric heaters (these are banned on many college campuses).
  • Do not link multiple surge protectors together. Surge protectors should plug directly into an outlet.
  • Do not block windows with furniture. This could be an alternative escape route in case of fire.

In case of fire, call 9-1-1, pull the fire alarm, and get out of the building. If the exit is blocked, try to find an alternative way out (a back staircase, a side door, or a window). If you cannot get out, make sure that someone knows where you are. Hang a sheet outside of your window and call for help. You should also contact emergency services immediately and let the operator know your exact location in the building for rescue.

Putting out Fires

In all cases, you should call the fire department, even if you manage to put a fire out yourself. Firefighters can assess the situation and determine how the fire started and how to prevent another one. The following tips are not meant to be a replacement for the fire department. If the fire is large or spreading or if there is a large amount of smoke, get out of the building, pull a fire alarm, and call the fire department.

  • Ordinary combustible fires (Class A): These are fires that occur when paper, wood, cardboard, plastic, or cloth catches on fire. It is best to put these fires out with a large amount of water or a Class A fire extinguisher. This type of fire can also be smothered if it is small and you can deprive it from a source of oxygen.
  • Flammable liquid fires (Class B): Flammable liquids (gasoline, propane, butane, etc.) and water do not mix, so do not use water to put out a this type of fire as this will just make it spread more. If you can shut off the source of the liquid, do it. If it is not safe to do so, evacuate the area, as a single spark could set off an explosion.
  • Electrical fires (Class C): If you smell something burning but do not yet see a fire, unplug the suspicious appliance immediately. If you have access to a breaker box, turn off the electricity leading to the outlet the appliance uses. If there is a fire, do not use water, as water conducts electricity. If the fire is small, you can cover it with baking soda, or use an appropriate fire extinguisher.
  • Grease fires (Class K): These must be smothered; do not try to pour water on a grease fire, as this will only make it worse. If you can, turn off the stove. Then, put a lid, pot, or other nonflammable container over the fire to cut off its oxygen supply. If there is nothing available, pour baking soda over the fire. An appropriate fire extinguisher can also put out a grease fire.

Fire extinguishers are rated according to the types of fires they can put out (the class of the extinguisher corresponds to the class of the fire). Never use a water extinguisher on anything other than a Class A fire. There should be an image or text on the side of a fire extinguisher showing what types of fires it can safely put out.

Page last updated: 12/2016