Keeping Student Housing Safe: Fire Prevention Tips

Combat increases in student housing, apartment fires with these 15 safety tips

With school back in session and the holidays around the corner, student housing and multifamily housing properties are particularly vulnerable to losses caused by fire.

Losses caused by fire damage in apartment structures since 2009 are on the rise. In the last six years, the number of fires reported in apartment structures has increased 5.5 percent, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2013, damages approached nearly $1.7 billion.

Fires on the rise at dorms, fraternities, sororities and barracks

It’s no secret that cooking plays a big factor in home and structure losses. In 2009-2013, fires attributed to cooking equipment comprised 45 percent of the 162,400 home structure fires responded to be U.S. fire departments. The stats include one- or two-family homes and apartments or other multifamily housing.

Student housing is not exempt. The annual number of fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks reported to U.S. fire departments has been substantially higher in recent years than any time prior to 2000, says NFPA.

In a recent report, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,970 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and other related properties from 2010-2014. Approximately 71 percent of the fires began in the kitchen or cooking area; cooking equipment was involved in 86 percent.

Most fires occurred from 5-11 p.m. and on weekends, and unattended cooking often was the blame.

The result was $15 million in direct property damage.

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Possibility of fires higher in kitchens of suite-style apartments

The potential for cooking-related fires has increased because newer dormitories are more likely to have kitchens in suite-style apartments rather than more traditional dorms, says NFPA.

“With more access to kitchens, students are making more meals or snacks using stoves and ovens, often for the first time and without proper training,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. “The campaign encourages students living on- and off-campus to know the risks and the preventative actions that can save their lives.”

The Center for Campus Fire Safety reports that 126 students died in 89 fires on college campuses, in Greek housing, or in privately owned off-campus housing within three miles of the campus from 2000-2014. Of those, 107 deaths occurred in fires in off-campus housing.

The report is another reminder that property managers, regardless of whether they manage student housing or multifamily units, need to educate residents about fire safety, says Adam Falkauff, Vice President, Insurance Services & Analytics at LeasingDesk Insurance. Residents also need to be equipped with the proper protection.

“Loss Prevention is an important aspect of a comprehensive renters insurance solution,” he said. “We want to ensure that the residents are safe and their belongings are protected, while providing protection for the property owners’ assets. Educating residents about fire safety starts with property managers.”

Educate your residents with these fire safety tips

Following are general safety tips from various fire protection sources that property managers can pass along to resident to help minimize the risk of fires:

  1. Ensure that smoke detectors are operational, and routinely check batteries.
  2. Notify the management company if a replacement is needed.
  3. Know where the nearest fire extinguisher is located.
  4. Safely dispose of cigarettes.
  5. Don’t set boxes or other items on the stove.
  6. Make sure cleaning supplies and other flammable items are away from the kitchen.
  7. Smother grease fires; don’t try to put them out with water.
  8. Know how to evacuate the building in case of emergency.
  9. Don’t leave burning candles unattended.
  10. Always be within arm’s reach when cooking on the stove or with a deep fryer
  11. Never leave your apartment while using a stove, oven or deep fryer.
  12. Make sure the fryer is level, slowly place food in the oil and never place partly frozen or wet items in hot oil when deep frying.
  13. When frying large items (turkeys, etc.) do not overfill the cooking vessel.
  14. Keep children and pets away from deep fryers and other cooking equipment.
  15. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions when operating any type of cooking equipment.

National Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 9-15. For more, visit the NFPA website.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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