Campus-related fires are on the rise nationwide

Kevin Gareau

Fires on and around college campuses have increased in recent years, and Ohio leads the nation in campus fatalities due to fires.

Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch, a fire safety Web site, said since January 2000, 113 students have died in campus-related fires – most in off-campus housing.

Ed Moisio, fire prevention and safety coordinator, said fires at Kent State have actually declined. He added the most common cause is easily preventable.

“The most common cause of campus-related fires is burnt food,” he said. “That’s not popcorn, that’s actual burnt food.”

Dean of Students Greg Jarvie said a small fire broke out in Wright Hall last week, but sprinklers quickly contained it. He said the fire occurred when a student threw a bag of burnt popcorn into a wastebasket. The wastebasket caught on fire, but sprinklers put it out before it spread.

“That’s a perfect example of what can occur,” Jarvie said. “That could have been a real catastrophe.”

Moisio said another common cause is electrical problems, but those can also be easily prevented.

“Pay attention to the number of things you’re plugging in,” he said.

Mike Dunton, fire marshall with the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department, said students should never leave food unattended while they are cooking.

“Cooking is not something you leave unattended,” Dunton said. “Microwaves or any other kitchen appliance will generate heat, and that heat can quickly turn into a fire.”

Dunton added that extension cords are one of the most common causes of electrical fires.

“Extension cords run under chairs or people walk on them and they get damaged,” he said. “Damaged cords cause a lot of electrical fires.”

Dunton said students should stay away from extension cords and use power plug strips with surge protectors instead. Students should be careful not to leave any liquids near cords or electrical equipment, he added.

Jon Hart, a member of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, said students should always make sure their housing is equipped with sprinklers. Portrayals of sprinkler systems in movies and television are often false, he added.

“A lot of times, you see people activate sprinkler systems in movies and all of the sprinklers in the building go off,” Hart said. “That’s not realistic.”

Hart said only one sprinkler head will go off at a time, and it is usually very effective in putting out fires quickly.

“The vast majority of fires in buildings with sprinklers are contained with one to two sprinkler heads,” he said.

Fire safety is something some students have on their minds.

Freshman nursing major Clint Newman said he usually practices fire safety.

“Sometimes my friend lights candles in the room to set the mood, but for the most part I’m fire safety-aware,” he said.

Dunton said fire safety is more than just an important thing to remember.

“Fire safety has to be a way of life. It has to be practiced,” he said. “It’s like driving with a seat belt. Once you do it enough times, you don’t even think about it anymore.”

Contact safety reporter Kevin Gareau at [email protected].