Colleges are where the young often get their first taste of living alone, away from the safety net of family. For freshmen, the college campus is like a confusing new city. They're distracted by change, exhausted by extensive homework, and pushing the boundaries of wild behavior due to their sudden lack of parental discipline. This is a culture that's prone to frequent fires.
What is the campus fire safety infrastructure like?
Campuses are densely populated with constant social exchanges. They employ huge populations and pour millions of dollars into the community. While students come and go, school personnel are working 24/7/365 to maintain the administrative buildings, sports facilities, dormitories, and classrooms. The area they're trying to manage is prohibitively large. They aren't there every time a student leaves incense burning unattended or discards a lit cigarette, and fires can spread rapidly.
We talked to Peter Strazdas, the Facilities Manager for Western Michigan University. He outlined the five biggest challenges of maintaining fire safety at college campuses:
- The general attitude with students tends to be laid back instead of proactive
- Students understanding the dangers of candles in housing units
- Understanding the importance of keeping exits clear at all times
- Training for evacuating a building when the building is in general alarm
- Testing and maintaining all fire alarm systems on a regular basis
What can students do to improve fire safety practices?
Students should participate in all fire evacuation drills. They should be trained as to fire alarm locations and exits in both dorms and classrooms. They should be alerted as to the danger of candles, and encouraged to watch for fire hazards in friends' dorm rooms as well as common areas.
Use signs and labels to communicate fire safety messages
All exits and elevators should have maps showing egress routes, pull stations, fire extinguishers, tornado shelter locations, and evacuation reassembly locations. On-campus sign shops may be able to take care of generic directional signs and warnings. For site-specific signage, incorporating contact information, university logos or sequenced numbers, some universities use their own portable or mobile printers which can be shared with multiple departments or facilities.