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Fire & Life Safety (Focus on Preparation and Prevention)

Put It in Writing

In a few weeks students will return from summer break. As students return to the classroom and residence halls you will also have, on average, two parents show up for each student as “fire safety inspectors” as they move their son or daughter into your residence halls. For the first time, I, too will be part of the parent group looking at all the fire safety features of the residence hall my daughter will be moving into.

In my case, I know the individual in charge of fire safety at her school; I’ve disclosed that I will be visiting as a parent and not a colleague and that yes, I will be looking. The individual at the school she is attending is not worried at all about my visit. He knows they have buildings that are up to current code, their systems have been properly tested and training has been provided to both professional staff and student staff. These are resources that will help maintain a residence hall that is ready to respond should there be a fire, but also know that the concept of preventing a fire is on the minds of all staff and will be conveyed to students as they move in.

Be Prepared

This school anticipated the questions a parent may ask during move-in weekend, and they are ready with answers. As you prepare to open for the new school year, you should be ready to answer the following questions about your buildings.

1. “How often are the smoke detectors tested in each apartment?” Your answer should be “monthly,” and you should be able to show the documentation to prove the testing from the previous year.

2. “Are the fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems tested? When were they last tested?” Again, you should prepare staff with the information related to the last time these systems were inspected and the process in place to correct a deficiency should there be a problem.

3. Prepare staff to answer questions related to passive fire safety systems. Offer more information to the parents asking the question. Tell them about fire doors, elevator testing and emergency lighting. These are stressful times, not only for the new freshman student, but also parents. Provide them with answers to the questions they haven’t even asked. You will reassure them that they are leaving their son or daughter at a school that is focused not only on academics, but also safety.

Offer a Handout

Consider handing out a brochure that talks about fire safety tips. Cover topics found in the fine print of contracts. The brochure should include tips concerning a number of items, including:

  • Candles – Discuss your campus policy and how is it enforced. Include information that educates students and parents related to why candles are a problem.
  • Smoke detectors – Indicate when are they tested and why they should not be tampered with.
  • Fire sprinklers – Indicate where they are located, how they operate and why they should not be obstructed or tampered with.
  • Cooking – Indicate what can be used in rooms and what cooking activities must take place in kitchens.
  • Electricity – Indicate how many items can be connected to power strips or plugged into wall outlets.
  • Smoking – Indicate where can smoking take place, as well as where and why it’s prohibited.
  • Emergency evacuation procedures – Explain what is expected of each person living in the residence hall, when to evacuate and where the evacuation location is for each building.
  • Local hazards – Earthquake, tornado or hurricane procedures — any potential local hazard that they should be aware of and procedures to follow.
  • Contact information – Provide information for facilities maintenance, housing staff and safety staff to report any concerns related to fire safety.

There are generic brochures on the market that can be ordered, or you can create your own. Include information that promotes fire prevention and advice for individuals that help them prepare to respond should there be a problem.

I know the school my daughter is attending has this information, and I expect shortly after we pull up we will be handed the brochure. As part of the team that is responsible for the safety of residents, take the lead and provide written information to students and parents to highlight the fire safety efforts your team puts forth, not only during the summer but also through the academic year.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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