Every year, the month of September marks the launch of the school year with new classes, new friends, and often new living spaces. This year, however, as communities face unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, life on college campuses is playing out very differently. While some colleges and universities have opted for full remote learning, others are welcoming students back to campus, and still others are offering a combination of the two. This has educators, administrators, public health officials, and first responders continually working on ways to safely operate schools this year.
The emphasis, of course, has understandably been placed on the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, but it’s also important to remember that we must continue to maintain adequate levels of fire and life safety on college campuses throughout the year. During Campus Fire Safety Month in September, NFPA and the Center for Campus Fire Safety will be sharing resources including fact sheets, tip sheets, videos, and other materials for students, parents, and fire safety educators that focus on reducing fire risk in college housing. These resources are free to download and can be shared.
Resources for fire safety educators:
- NFPA’s new fact sheet, Building and Life Safety Issues for Safely Reopening Schools, provides fire and life safety considerations for schools as they prepare to re-open, including building modifications like door operability, classroom usage, seating arrangements, and partitions, as well egress management and storage of hand sanitizer and cleaning products.
- Fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows must be operable at all times. While propping doors and windows open so no one has to touch them may seem like a safer option to stop the spread of germs, interfering with the operation of fire doors can have grave consequences during a fire. Learn more in this recent blog.
- Hand sanitizer and other cleaning products classified as flammable and combustible liquids present fire safety concerns, especially when they are stored or used in bulk quantities. Storage of large quantities of flammable and combustible liquids might compromise safety if the fire protection systems are not designed to protect the storage of such quantities of flammable liquids. Get additional information on fire safety considerations for hand sanitizer in a recent NFPA video. Information can also be found in the Building and Life Safety Issues for Safely Reopening Schools fact sheet mentioned above.
According to NFPA and the Center for Campus Fire Safety, September and October have the highest incidences for fires in dormitories. This year “move in” date processes are different due to the pandemic with many rules now in place that limit the number of people who can accompany students into their new living quarters. Students and their guests, however, are still encouraged, when moving in and in the days following, to take steps to ensure living arrangements are fire safe.
Resources for students and parents that can help during the move-in process:
Other tips include:
- Test smoke alarms monthly in an apartment or house. Make sure smoke alarms are installed in all sleeping areas, outside of all sleeping areas, and on every level of the apartment or house. In dorms, make sure each sleeping room has a smoke alarm or the dormitory suite has a smoke alarm in each living area as well as the sleeping rooms. NEVER remove or disable smoke alarms.
- Keep combustible items away from heat sources and never overload electrical outlets, extension cords, or power strips. Many fires are caused by portable lights and heat sources, like space heaters and halogen lamps.
- Keep common areas and hallways free of possessions and debris.
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking. Never leave cooking equipment unattended, even briefly.
For those on campus, resources including videos, checklists, infographics, tip sheets, and more have been designed to be shared through social media, school newspapers, college websites, and posted in dormitory common areas.