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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Is Your College Campus Fire Safe?

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A townhouse that burned last week, killing a Georgetown University graduate, marked the fourth fatal off-campus fire at a U.S. college in the 2014-2015 academic year. According to Washington, D.C. officials, the owners of the townhouse were not licensed to rent rooms or apartments. An investigation revealed that the house did not have a sprinkler system and there was no evidence of a fire escape. Although the house had smoke detectors, it is unknown at this time whether they were in working order or met inspection requirements.

When kids go off to college, the excitement of having their own place typically overshadows the importance of inspecting the safety of the housing where they will spend countless hours studying, sleeping, and eating. According to Campus Firewatch, an average of 3,810 campus housing fires occur in the U.S. each year, resulting in 170 total campus-related fire fatalities since 2000. Yet, fire safety devices are rarely a priority checklist item when searching for a college apartment or house. Many students in off-campus housing are unaware if the apartment or home lacks fire sprinklers, smoke detectors and other critical fire safety technology.

Residence halls can house hundreds, if not thousands, of students who tend to overload electrical sockets, overuse extension cords and halogen lamps, burn candles, or leave the coffee pot on—all major causes of campus fires. Some dorms may have kitchens with many students cooking for the first time. The carelessness of just one can quickly lead to a fire emergency situation.

Regardless of the cause, prevention and safety are key. Fire sprinklers are designed to detect, contain and control a fire in its early stages, reducing the chance of a fire fatality by 80% and property damage by 70%. Despite these estimates, officials say tight budgets have caused most states and private institutions to balk at putting them in. Only a few states mandate that higher education institutions inform students and parents about their fire safety efforts, such as whether or not college housing is equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems. While it doesn’t guarantee these systems are installed, it does generate increased awareness of the issue.

Few people think they will ever become a victim of a home fire until they are injured or a loved one becomes a statistic. Parents must speak up on children’s behalf, advocating for higher education institutions to raise awareness for campus fire safety. It is important to not only contact your child’s university, but also your state representatives. It is time this issue is addressed on a national level to protect tomorrow’s leaders.

For college-bound students, when it comes to campus fire safety, being prepared is key; know your surroundings. Take a tour of your dorm as well as all campus buildings – dining halls, classrooms, health and fitness center, etc. Locate all stairwells and exits.

With so much anticipation and excitement, personal safety can easily be overlooked. Even though a college campus may seem like a safe haven for students, it is important to practice these campus safety tips.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.