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HomeNewsTennessee State Fire Marshal's Office offers Fire Safety Tips for College Students

Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office offers Fire Safety Tips for College Students

Tennessee State Fire MarshalNashville, TN – Each year, across the country, college and university students on- and off-campus experience hundreds of fire-related emergencies. There are several specific causes for fires on college campuses, including cooking, arson and accidents.

Overall, most college-based fires are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention. According to information compiled by Campus Firewatch, the great majority of student fire deaths occur in off-campus housing that lacks sufficient exits, operable smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers.

Also, the misuse of candles, careless smoking habits and the use of alcohol – which impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts – contribute to off-campus housing fire deaths.

As the fall semester approaches, colleges and universities are busy preparing for the arrival of residents to their campus communities. Some will be first-year students moving into residence halls.

Other students will be moving off-campus and living on their own, some for the first time. For most of these students, the last fire safety training they received was in grade school; but with new independence come new responsibilities. It is important that both off-campus and on-campus students understand fire risks and know the preventative measures that could save their lives.

Safety Tips for Students (Copy and send to any college students you know!)


  • Avoid using lighted candles! Scented, flameless candles are available and much safer.
  • Do not leave lit candles unattended.
  • Keep lit candles away from draperies and linens.
  • During a power outage, use a flash light.


  • Cook only where it is permitted.
  • Keep your cooking area clean and uncluttered.
  • If you use electric appliances, don’t overload circuits.
  • Never leave food cooking unattended.
  • If a fire starts in a microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the unit.
  • Check with your local fire department for any restrictions before using a barbeque grill, fire pit, or chimenea.


  • If you must smoke, smoke outside. (If you would like to quit smoking, the Tennessee Department of Health offers free help. Call 1.800.QUIT.NOW.)
  • Use sturdy, deep, non-tip ashtrays.
  • Make sure cigarettes and ashes are extinguished. Never toss hot cigarette butts or ashes in the trash.
  • After a party, check for cigarette butts, especially under cushions. Chairs and sofas catch on fire fast and burn fast.
  • Be alert – don’t smoke in bed or a comfortable chair where you tend to doze! If you are sleepy or have been drinking, put your cigarette out first before getting cozy.

Escape Planning

  • If you have to escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.
  • Before opening a door, feel the door. If it’s hot, use your second way out.
  • Use the stairs; never use an elevator during a fire.
  • If you’re trapped, call the fire department and tell them where you are. Seal the area under your door with rags, and signal from your window. Open windows slightly at the top and bottom; shut them if smoke rushes in from any direction.
  • If you have a disability, alert others of the type of assistance you need to leave the building.

Off-Campus Fire Safety

The U.S. Department of Education reports that there are approximately 18 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the country. Approximately two-thirds of the students live in off-campus housing.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office encourages considering the following before moving in or signing a lease:

  • Are working smoke alarms installed? (Ideally, they should be in each bedroom, interconnected to sound all if any one detects smoke.)
  • Are there at least two ways to exit your bedroom and your building?
  • Do the upper floors of the building have at least two interior stairs or a fire escape?
  • Is a sprinkler system installed and maintained?
  • Are the existing electrical outlets adequate for all of the appliances and equipment that you are bringing – without the need for extension cords?
  • Are there exit signs in the building hallways to indicate accessible escape routes?
  • Does the building have a fire alarm system installed and maintained?
  • Has the building’s heating system been inspected recently (in the past year)?
  • Is the building address clearly posted to enable emergency services to locate it quickly in the event of an emergency?
  • Does the sprinkler system or fire alarm system send a signal to the local fire department or campus security?

According to information compiled by Campus Firewatch, 86 percent of the campus-related fire fatalities across the nation since January 2000 have occurred in off-campus housing.

Five common factors in a number of these fires include:

  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers,
  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms,
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials,
  • Impaired judgment from alcohol consumption, and
  • Fires involving upholstered furniture on decks or porches.

On-Campus Fire Safety

In cases where fire fatalities have occurred on college campuses, alcohol was a factor. There is a strong link between alcohol and fire deaths. Alcohol abuse often impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.

Many other factors contribute to the problem of dormitory housing fires including:

  • Improper use of 911 notification systems delays emergency response.
  • Student apathy is prevalent. Many are unaware that fire is a risk or threat in the environment.
  • Evacuation efforts are hindered since fire alarms are often ignored.
  • Building evacuations are delayed due to lack of preparation and pre-planning.
  • Vandalized and improperly maintained smoke alarms and fire alarm systems inhibit early detection of fires.
  • Misused cooking appliances, overloaded electrical circuits and improperly used or maintained extension cords increase the risk of fires.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office (www.tn.gov/commerce/sfm/) is a division of the Department of Commerce and Insurance (www.tn.gov/commerce/), which works to protect consumers while ensuring fair competition for industries and professionals who do business in Tennessee.

www.tn.gov/commerce/, @TNCommerceInsur (Twitter), http://on.fb.me/uFQwUZ (Facebook), http://bit.ly/ry1GyX (YouTube)


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