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Fire Safety Dos and Don’ts

University and other experts offer advice on how to be safe


Want to save your property—and your life? Passing on candles just might do the trick: wax-with-wicks are the most common fire-starters among college students. That’s why University dorms ban candles, as well as incense, open flames, and smoking.

If you happen to live off campus, beyond the purview of BU’s rigorous fire safety plan, it might be instructive to consider that federal statistics say 86 percent of college fire deaths since 2000 happened in off-campus housing. The University and the city of Boston provide online resources to help protect against such misfortunes as the enforced homelessness last winter of eight students following a Brookline apartment fire.

The Boston Fire Department has a web page of home fire safety tips, and the city has a web page with a home safety checklist.

Every tenant should make sure that smoke detectors are working, and notify the landlord immediately if they’re not. Three quarters of residential fire deaths occur in homes without a working smoke detector. Another city web page, Ten Tips for Moving to Boston, lists resources like the mayor’s 24-hour service center for reporting problems and requesting services. BU’s safety website details the University’s fire regulations and fire safety advice. The University also posts a fire-safety-at-a-glance page.

The US Fire Administration’s safety tip sheet notes five common factors in fires in off-campus student housing: lack of fire sprinklers; missing or disabled smoke alarms (do not disable smoke alarms, no matter how annoying the occasional cooking-triggered blast); haphazard disposal of cigarettes; tenant drunkenness leading to misjudgments; and combustible upholstered deck and porch furniture.

Highlights from these various safety experts:

  • Don’t overload electrical outlets.
  • Have a fire extinguisher within easy reach. Know where it is. Also purchase flashlights and extra smoke detectors and batteries for both. The University is working to have local stores, including Barnes & Noble at BU, stock these items and fire safety information sheets.
  • Have an escape route planned and make sure it’s always debris-free.
  • Whenever an alarm sounds, assume it’s for a reason and get out.
  • Make sure there is a smoke detector outside each sleeping area in the apartment.
  • Have a carbon monoxide detector on each level of the house.
  • Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your place; it could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If you grill, watch where you do it. Boston and Brookline ban charcoal grills on wooden porches. And make sure you put out the embers with water when you’re finished. As for gas grills, state law forbids their use or storage inside and above the first floor of any residence.

BU’s Environmental Health and Safety website includes information that is also distributed to students at housing fairs on both campuses, typically in April and May, says Bob Whitfield, director of campus and clinical safety. That information includes a fire safety checklist, emergency preparedness kits, fire safety questions to ask before signing a lease or moving into an apartment, how to host safe parties, and more, Whitfield says.

If precautions fail and a fire breaks out, the best advice is the most obvious, according to the experts: get the hell out and call the fire department.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

2 Comments on Fire Safety Dos and Don’ts

  • Ed Comeau on 09.09.2013 at 9:53 am

    Good info! All of BU housing is sprinklered, which is great, sprinklers save lives, no two ways about it, kudos to BU!

    Did you know that four out of five fire deaths happen OFF campus? Last academic year there were 7 students killed in off-campus fires across the country, including Binland Lee last April at BU. If you have to remember one thing, it is to know two ways out, no matter where you are-your house, dorm, classroom, restaurant, movie theater. Your second way out might be a window, so think about getting a fire escape ladder from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Small price to pay to be able to get out when you have to.

  • Ann Helwege on 09.09.2013 at 11:21 am

    Never pour water on a grease fire! I’ve known this but just learned why. Water is heavier than oil and sinks to the bottom of the pan, where it then superheats. As the water boils up, the burning grease explodes, not only burning the cook but alighting other flammable items in the room. Fire instructors demonstrate this with a deep fat fryer and a cup of water: the explosion looks like an atomic explosion.

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